TechnoStorm

Set for a personal robot?

India, June 3 -- Robots have this science fiction quality: gee-whiz, distant and meant for scientists and futuristic folks. Beyond the amazing leaps seen in a Rajnikanth movie, robots are increasingly deployed in factories as part of automation work. At home we already have floor cleaners available and soon we will have robots clean up the mess. The future is closer than you think.

And here we tell you that you can even make one.

Robot-building kits are now available in stores, from basic to advanced levels.

The range begins with kits from Frank Toys, under the Brand Name 4M, these start at around R599. But we speak today of more advanced varieties, something that could cost you Rs. 30,000 to build, the Lego Mindstorms.

The Lego Mindstorms are only sold by high-end toy stores, and are not easy to get on account of limited supply and high demand, but worry not. Version 3 of the Mindstorms, also called the EV3 is on its way this summer and should be out anytime, with some big stores rolling it out in the major metros. Also, Flipkart sells Lego online, and you can keep a watch.

So we guide you about Mindstorms Nxt 2.0 that is available today.

Building basics

The first part in building a robot is to learn the mechanics, and if you are not in a mood to spend 30,000 bucks or wait till the EV3 hits the market, then you can always start with the Lego's Technic series. These start at just R1,299 and go upwards. Some of them will be pure mechanical machines, but for some you can always buy a set of motors and controllers and get control over them.

But a real robot is supposed to do things on its own, learn from its own mistakes, and be helpful. How do you do that?

The NXT2.0 contains a number of "bricks": a 32 bit microprocessor controller, a couple of sensors, motors and everything that you need to build the robot. You put the machine together, stick in the motors and connect everything to the controller, all without bothering about soldering.

Building this is like building any other Lego brick model. But then comes the difficult programming bit. You install the application on your computer, and hook up the USB to the controller and program it. Coding is a bit of a challenge for people to start with, but visit the robot site (http://mindstorms.lego.com) and it will help you connect with resources that you can learn from.

Learning curve

The software also offers a drag and drop interface, where you drag a sensor, say the light sensor, and the motor, and then connect these, and programme it such that when light shines on the sensor, it needs to spin the motor, and when there is no light, it should stop the motor. Leave the robot now in a well-lit room, and it will go find a dark corner, turn on the light in the dark corner, and it will go find the next dark corner, all while bumping into things! It gropes its way to learning. Perhaps like we do in our younger years. It is interesting and it is easy.

More interesting things are on the way. There is an iPad app coming that will let you interface your robot with an iPad so you could run it from the tablet. Also on the way is a faster processor and one that can be connected to the Internet so you can command it from a distance.

Hone your skills

Till such time that you can't get your hands on the NXT 2.0, or the EV3, and you decide to play it cheaper, the best thing you can do is to reach out to a toy store near you and pick up one of the kits from Frank Toys. Websites such as Robokits.co.in, and www.fun2learn.com also have robot kits available.

And while on it, here's what you do.

1. Learn mechanics and build your first mechanical toy so you can get the basics of how mechanics work

2. Add a Motor to it, learn soldering, connect it to a battery let the basic robot move around.

3. Use an Arduino (microcontroller plaform) board, where you can program the motor and see how it runs or use sensors. The required code is available online but do go through it systematically, step by step.

Meanwhile, do watch out for the EV3, which may the real big toy.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.

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