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Where to begin


Let me begin by telling you that I don’t know anything about robots, mechanics or electronics. However I’m a computer science major and I’m learning JAVA in college, but I’m still begining so that doesn’t even count. And the problem is (I don’t know if it’s a problem…) that I had last year a sudden pation for robots and now I want to learn how to build robots…
So I’m searching for a book/site/manual anything that can help me do that knowing that I really have to start from scratch and I want to be able to build something like that (robopolis.com/images_produit/con053.jpg) in the least time possible. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not an idiot :laughing: I know that it will take me A LOT of time and effort to build something like that, but I have all my life to do it and I’m not in a hurry so even if we’re counting in years here it’s ok :laughing:
Now, I’m ready to put some money in this, if it’s worth it. Let’s say $100-$200 is good start for a noob like me^^
So where can I start :S That’s the real question. Keep in mind that I REALLY do not know ANYTHING about mechanics or electronics. Oh and (don’t laugh please :P) I’m 21 years old, which might mean that I might learn faster (specially that I’m a computer science major).

Thanks in advance for you’re help.
Professor_K, all the way from France.


That is one cool project to work towards!

I think you’ll need to significantly increase your budget however. If you think about just the servo’s alone that robot has at least 12 of them. Servos typically run about $10 (unless you find a good one time deal on ebay or something).

I too am a mostly software guy (and java is the language that I work in every day), but unfortunately Java is not the most common language in robotics today. C seems to be the most common mostly because of its low overhead (as required by most of these microcontrollers). Now don’t get me wrong in saying that Java skills aren’t useful in robotics or engineering in general. Its just that you’ll probably end up learning C and how it bit twiddles (does bit manipulation).

My recommendation would be to start smaller, perhaps building a sumobot, or maze follower or even a combat robot, and use that learning experience towards your eventual goal.

That’s what I am doing. I built combat bots with my son, the last few years and now I am working on a sumo and maze bot. Eventually I want to work towards a robomagellan bot


My best advice to you would be, since you’re still in school, to see if your college offers a mechanical/electrical engineering overview course (maybe called something like mechatronics). If it’s just a book learning course skip it, and buy the book if you really want to, but if it’s a hands on group-project type course, you might consider it (and if it counts towards your degree, all the better).

I’ve seen courses like this at a couple of colleges here in the US, and they really were a great crash courses for people with little to no prior experience, complete with motivation (final grade!), resources, ideas, and maybe even a little cash to buy parts & pizza. If you’re really lucky you’ll end up paired in a group with some people who can show you all sorts of neat electronics and mechanical fabrication tricks, but are clueless about programming! By the way, Parallax makes a neat little Java-based microcontroller, the Javelin Stamp.

Aside from taking a full fledged class, the next best thing is to get a project book/kit and work through it, like Parallax’s What Is A Microcontroller (offered as a half price full kit from Radio Shack), or C Programming For Microcontrollers.

Of course, my recommendations are all microcontroller, programming, and electronics based since my background is in mechanical engineering. Does anyone have good ideas for books/kits/ways to get some basic mechanical design stuff down?

Good luck!



Thanks for your responses^^
First of all, jconallen, I don’t intend to begin with the robot of the picture I posted (btw it’s a kit that costs 900 euros, so for a rookie like me I don’t know if it’s a good idea to start with that ^^) so in other words, of course I’m gonna begin with something smaller^^ However I recently realised that I don’t really like to “build” the robot, or at least the part of the robot. That’s why I prefer to rely on small kits that come with thei manuals and then try to program the personality.
Another problem is that I live in France, which means I have a lot less openings. For instance, I can’t get the offer from radioshack :laughing:
I’m going to check all the links you gave me though, the paralax thing sounds interesting. What I might get is the RS Media, which is more a toy than a robot, but at least the personality is reprogrammable in Java and there are a lot of hacks on the internet to modify it’s body structure (for exemple: add a flame thrower to the arm :laughing:).
But my priority now is to find a nice book for beginners and a nice little kit that is not very expensive so that I can learn the basics.
And by the way, I’m the AUP (American University of Paris) and unfortunately there are no engineering or electronics course, so that’s not an option for now :frowning:
Anyway thanks a lot for your responses and if you have any other suggestions please don’t hesitate.


sounds like you have pretty realistic expectations, while the robot you pointed out is pretty cool (my kids would love it), it would have been a pretty ambitious first project.

If you don’t mind kits then I would recommend getting a VEX robotics kit on the French eBay site, and looking into the JVEX project (a java port to the vex controller). I have seen these kits in action (i am an adult leader for my kids school’s FIRST robotics team), and they are really fun.

I was leaning in this direction originally, however I am a sadist when it comes to things technical, and am giving the ‘from scratch thing’ as good a try as I can. :slight_smile:


Ok I finally ordered my first robots and the tools. I chose something very simple to begin and learn (electronickits.com/robot/mv979.htm) then if I like it I’m going to oerder a POB-BOT or a Boe-Bot from Parallax.
Anyway thx for your help and your advice. Next time I have a question about robotics I know where to come ^^


P.S. I don’t know if you noticed on the Parallax website or not, but they post full PDF’s of all of the educational kit books. So even if you only buy the BOE bot kit/book, you can still read up on the other books, like What Is A Microcontroller.



Thx a lot I just found everything. Some manuals are in french too so it’s even better ^^


They certainly are, they’re just not obvious (they would prefer you buy the books after all, but they want teachers to be able to print out copies for their classes). I reference them from time to time for things like “Hmm, I wonder how I could build an analog circuit to measure the capacitance of a liquid, and output a proportional frequency.” I’m not kidding, I actually did find the answer to this question a few months ago in the Parallax Earth Measurements guide, a download-only addition to their Applied Sensors kit.

So, looking at http://www.parallax.com, I click on Stamps In Class, the third link down under Products. This takes me to a list of their book/kits. If I then click on one, say, Basic Analog & Digital, I’m taken to a product page for the book & kit. Now, the book alone costs $24, but towards the bottom, the first link under Downloads is Basic Analog and Digital V 1.3 (.pdf), all 176 pages of it! Some books have extra online chapters, and all the kits have a complete parts listing link, so you can gather the parts yourself, or even just the ones you need.

It’s really awesome. Too bad I never got into Basic Stamps.



What helped me get going was finding local competitions I could build for. My first foray into robotics was a mini-sumo kit: a Mark III. The kit was complete (I could build a working robot from the bits that came in the kit) it left room for improvement in the hardware (that’s my passion, so it was a good thing), it came with no source code (I had to write my own), and it offered me a way to compare my work against something someone else built without risking any damage or loss (mini-sumo robots are not allowed to damage each other.)

I’m not pushing mini-sumo, mind you. I’m just tossing that out as an example. Practically every robot problem I’ve looked at, ESPECIALLY the simple ones, wind up being much more complicated than I’d thought by the time I’m done. Even building a simple (simple! hah!) line follower can lead you into all sorts of fun tangent ideas like velocity loops, servo tuning, filtering sensor noise, etc.

What I like about building a kit for a competition is that you’re guaranteed to build something that’ll work, you get to tweak on the hardware, the electronics, and the software, and you get immediate feedback on whether your changes had any effect on the outcome.

Past that the sky’s the limit. As far as my Mark III goes, I’m gutting it so I can replace the processor with an Orangutan, I’m eventually planning to swap out all the sensors for a Theremin Vision II system, and I hope to have it running in a competition in late November this year. Should be fun!


P.S. Shame it’s not a biped, but my Mark III ran right around $100 US, and my line follower ran only slightly more. They’re in your price range!


What robot kit are you talking about?
I found the sumo bot (robotshop.ca/accueil/fournis … otics.html) but I didn’t find anything about Mark III robot kit (execpt they mention it in the second link I gave).
So can you give me a link about the robot you are talking about please?
And if you’re robot is one the the two that are showed in the links above, isn’t it better to get a more Standard Boe-Bot instead considering the fact that I won’t do any competition (I live in Paris, where there are not a lot of competition, and I just build robot for fun and don’t really have the time for competitions…)


It’s the Mark III from Junun, but given that you don’t have any plans to run it in competition, something closer to a Boe-Bot would be a better bet. Mostly I was just trying to say that a kit is a good way to get started because there’s less of a chance you’ll get frustrated before actually completing your first robot.

One reason I liked the mini-sumo kits in general is that none of them are perfect (a custom-built mini-sumo will win over a kit almost every single time) so in the end I was left with something good, but not perfect, that wanted tweaking.

Something else to look for is if there’s a local robot club. That gives you a great resource for bouncing ideas off of other people and finding out what other people are building. I’d be willing to bet Paris would have at least one robot club. There are enough people there who do this sort of thing commercially, I’m guessing you’re not alone.