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Slightly Miffed Eric – Fuzzy Road.

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On my fathers bookcase was a copy of “Build Your Own Working Robot” by David L. Heiserman (ISBN 0-7042-0171-2). The author takes you through building a robot based on a child’s ride on electric car giving all the circuit diagrams and build instructions. The final, autonomous robot can run around avoiding obstacles and even recharge its own batteries by returning to a recharging station when it needs to. Published in 1976, pre-dating the first home computer, it is all down to logic circuits and some very clever thinking. As a child, this book started me on the road to robotics. I never did get an electric car to work with but I did have access to lots of Meccano. When I left home and ventured into the big wide world my father gave me the book and started replacing the damaged skirting boards.

As often happens, relationships, financial crises and work soon reduced my robotic dreams to a set of disconnected parts in a forgotten stacker bin in the back room.

Then I received the best present ever!

Actually, that is not true, my best present ever is my espresso machine, so best electronic present ever.

No note just a box of bits that no one will admit responsibility for. So I set to work putting all the parts together. The end result, after a weekend and a couple of rebuilds, was an Initio robot by 4Tronics.

I have to describe this robot from the ground up or I will just end up doing a copy and paste from their website. So, the drive is two motors providing a 4WD drive through two gearboxes with enough power to climb to the point that the robot will flip onto its back. Attached to the wheels are two rotation sensors but they were marked as “connect once you have done everything else”, I did not connect them at this point. Just above the ground are two infra-red sensors for line following. Above that is a plastic platform with the battery pack and on/off switch and a socket for recharging (batteries not included). There are two IR proximity sensors with bespoke mounts leaving an expanse for other equipment. Above that is another plastic platform with a pan and tilt head operated by two servos mounted at the front. The head holds a sonic range finder. At the back of the platform is a Raspberry Pi providing the computer control. Mounted on top of that is the 4Tronics bespoke I/O card providing most of the connections needed along with the voltage management for the sensors and motors.

4Tronics provide comprehensive build instructions on their website along with a plethora of test software. Unfortunately, you have the choice of “Scratch” (programming for Teletubbies) or Python (you know my views on that. Ew, Just, EW) but even with the software limitations it did not take me long to get the Initio running around and a simple collision avoidance system working.

Now we start the hard bit.

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