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Thread: Student project

  1. #1

    Student project

    Hello, we want to start a student robot project at the university where I work.

    Basically we want to get started by turning a remote control car into a robot.

    We have a few 'requirements' that we are looking at.

    We want to remove the RC part out of a remote control car and replace it with a computer board.

    We are thinking about a mini pc board, with wireless capability that can run linux. Of course the mini-pc board will need an interface to control the servos on the car.

    Has anyone here done this before (probably).

    What is a good way to get started, what kind of rc-car (a pick up style one probably?) What kind of mini pc board ? what kind of controller board.

    Any tips pointers etc would be great,

    Ron

  2. #2

    Re: Student project

    Quote Originally Posted by csdude View Post
    Basically we want to get started by turning a remote control car into a robot.

    We have a few 'requirements' that we are looking at.

    We want to remove the RC part out of a remote control car and replace it with a computer board.

    We are thinking about a mini pc board, with wireless capability that can run linux. Of course the mini-pc board will need an interface to control the servos on the car.
    You may run into size problems with mini PC boards on an RC car. The Pico-ITX is the smallest x86 compatible board available currently, and it is from VIA.

    Have you considered an ARM9 processor? They run full Linux also. Smaller size too, typically.

    Which R/C vehicle are you considering? Depending on which one, it may be harder or easier to do what you want. The Traxxas E-Maxx is very popular for robotic conversions and has many third party parts available for it. Almost everything is replaceable.

    8-Dale
    I can handle complexity. It's the simple things that confound me.
    Do everything in moderation, ESPECIALLY, moderation..
    Sometimes the only way to win, is not to play.. -- Stephen Falken

  3. #3

    Re: Student project

    At this point I don't have any parts yet. So I can choose any RC vehicle I want.

    I have not considered an ARM9 processor. To be honest, as a starting point I just considered a X86 style board because of 'familiarity'.

    I could use an ARM9 processor board, provided I can get one with 802.11 (or so) wireless networking hardware.

    I am open to any suggestions. We havent bought any hardware yet. However, after I make an initial choice, I want to have as many options as possible open for later on extending the project (sensors etc etc)

    thanks for your swift reply,

    Ron

  4. #4

    Re: Student project

    Quote Originally Posted by csdude View Post
    I have not considered an ARM9 processor. To be honest, as a starting point I just considered a X86 style board because of 'familiarity'.
    I already have WiFi G working with the Hammer (200 MHz Samsung S3C2410A, 32 MB RAM, 16 MB Flash, 40 pin DIP, runs full Linux).


    Quote Originally Posted by csdude View Post
    I am open to any suggestions. We havent bought any hardware yet. However, after I make an initial choice, I want to have as many options as possible open for later on extending the project (sensors etc etc)
    I will be working on getting as many different things interfaced to Hammer as possible. I have a serial Bluetooth module (console port) and I2C compass wired up ready to start testing with soon.

    8-Dale
    I can handle complexity. It's the simple things that confound me.
    Do everything in moderation, ESPECIALLY, moderation..
    Sometimes the only way to win, is not to play.. -- Stephen Falken

  5. #5
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    Re: Student project

    Have a look at the Surveyor board. You can run uClinux on it (500Mhz Blackfin). It has everything you need to control the RC car out of the box (including 1A H-Bridge motor controllers). It has a camera, so you can start doing autonomous operations straight out of the box. It has webserver/java controls to be driven over the web, straight out of the box. It has WiFi straight out of the box. It's entirely OpenSource, which makes it excellent for educational projects - everything is exposed, from the hardware and schematics down to the source code for basic image processing and recognition. It's supported in RoboRealm, a very powerful PC-based recognition system which can operate it remotely. It has some servo interfaces for controlling additional servos. It can talk to something like the SSC32, and give you another 32 channels of servo control. It has direct I2C interfacing for adding spiffy serial sensor chains, or output chains. Built-in SmallC and Lisp interpreters. An expansion bus header. JTAG debugging.

    Could there be a better platform for education? Maybe. It's a little light on RAM/ROM. Of course, I can see that being repaired off the expansion header...

    Anyway, have a look here: http://www.surveyor.com/blackfin/#blackfin0

    That said, I've turned a remote controlled tracked pickup into a competition robot. A motor controller (a sabertooth 10 in this case), and then Sky's The Limit as far as what processing you want on there. A PicoITX is a tiny full PC computer with 1Ghz of processing power that will run from an RC battery for several hours. The Hammer looks like an excellent choice (tincantools.com). The Make Controller can be made to do the job (makingthings.com) with lots of IO. (It's an ARM7).

    Personally, I have two modes of approaching such projects: 1) let the "rules" or desired task dictate the design, or 2) let the drive base dictate the design.

    Once you find an RC car that you like, lots of power, an easily hacked-off body, and something that can be mounted to without inordinate trouble, then you can start looking at what motor controller you need, and once you know its inputs, then you can look at processing. That's the way I'd probably approach something so general.

    Please don't leave us hanging through your project! Report back, we want to hear about it!

  6. #6
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    Re: Student project

    The E-Maxx from Traxxis is a favorite for conversion to a robot chassis. MachineBus has an article on how they did it. Unfortunately the deck is not for sale anymore, but it wouldn't be hard to make one.

  7. #7

    Re: Student project

    Ok that looks like a pretty cool solution.

    however from what I see is that ucLinux is an embedded linux. Since the project is going to be 'student driven', how difficult is it to get 'ucLinux on there' ?

    What is it you use for local storage ? usb keys or so ?

    Of course I'll report back. Once that group of students is going to take over I will point them to this site where they can 'report back' and also use it as a resource.

    btw, how much are those boards, $$$-wise approx ?

  8. #8
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    Re: Student project

    Quote Originally Posted by csdude View Post
    Hello, we want to start a student robot project at the university where I work.

    Basically we want to get started by turning a remote control car into a robot.

    We have a few 'requirements' that we are looking at.

    We want to remove the RC part out of a remote control car and replace it with a computer board.

    We are thinking about a mini pc board, with wireless capability that can run linux. Of course the mini-pc board will need an interface to control the servos on the car.

    Has anyone here done this before (probably).

    What is a good way to get started, what kind of rc-car (a pick up style one probably?) What kind of mini pc board ? what kind of controller board.

    Any tips pointers etc would be great,

    Ron
    What are you overall goals for this project? What sort of tasks will this robot be doing? If your goal is to do some very sophisticated AI, then a small micro may not meet your needs. Robotics is a broad topic, typically university classes can only cover a small part at a time, else they risk having no depth.

    If your goal is to build a small, inexpensive platform to try out motion stuff and just run around, then previous suggestions may be exactly what you need. I notice, however, that your user name includes "cs", so I'm guessing you may possibly be aiming more towards the AI side of robotics. If that is the case, I might suggest you look at what tools are commonly used in academia already:

    At SUNY Albany, we use Sony AIBO dogs, with the Tekkotsu package (from CMU, www.tekkotsu.org). The newer versions of Tekkotsu run on Linux, and specifically are geared for the PicoITX board. CMU has developed a robot called Regis which is built on a Lynxmotion 4WD platfrom with a gumstix. They are just finishing up the next generation (known as Kathie lee), which is a hexapod using dynamixel servos and a PicoITX. Such hardware is expensive, but such a software package abstracts away much of the hard part of robotics, and has built ins that allow students to design behaviors using such broad tools as face recognition, color tracking, a particle filters for mapping and localization.

    Another academic robotics package is Python Robotics (pyro), from Bryn Mawr (www.pyrorobotics.org). This runs on a multitude of platforms (in fact, any that supports player/stage). Again, these platforms can be expensive.

    At the very low-cost end is a package using Pyro and a scribbler, from Bryn Mawr's Institute for Personal Robotics in Education (IPRE, http://ipre.org/). This is a platform has slightly less power, but still quite a bit, they use to teach CS1, using robots. The text book is available free online, and students purchase their $150 bluetooth enabled, camera included, differential drive robot. Bryn Mawr has been doing this for about 2 years now I think, I'll be TAing a similar class this fall at Albany.

    -Fergs

  9. #9

    Re: Student project

    Quote Originally Posted by Adrenalynn View Post
    Have a look at the Surveyor board. You can run uClinux on it (500Mhz Blackfin). It has everything you need to control the RC car out of the box (including 1A H-Bridge motor controllers). It has a camera, so you can start doing autonomous operations straight out of the box. It has webserver/java controls to be driven over the web, straight out of the box. It has WiFi straight out of the box. It's entirely OpenSource, which makes it excellent for educational projects - everything is exposed, from the hardware and schematics down to the source code for basic image processing and recognition.
    I would love to have one of the Blackfin Camera Boards. The fact it is completely Open Source for software is wonderful. I wish it ran full Linux, but uCLinux should be quite nice also. I really want to get one of these for use in vision/imaging experimentation. I want to use one connected to Hammer.

    8-Dale
    I can handle complexity. It's the simple things that confound me.
    Do everything in moderation, ESPECIALLY, moderation..
    Sometimes the only way to win, is not to play.. -- Stephen Falken

  10. #10

    Re: Student project

    Quote Originally Posted by lnxfergy View Post
    Another academic robotics package is Python Robotics (pyro), from Bryn Mawr (www.pyrorobotics.org). This runs on a multitude of platforms (in fact, any that supports player/stage). Again, these platforms can be expensive.
    I very much want to try using PyRo for the control software for W.A.L.T.E.R., but I need to figure out how to separate it from all the GUI stuff so I can actually put it on the robot.

    8-Dale
    I can handle complexity. It's the simple things that confound me.
    Do everything in moderation, ESPECIALLY, moderation..
    Sometimes the only way to win, is not to play.. -- Stephen Falken

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