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Thread: Beginner with some experience

  1. Beginner with some experience

    Hey everyone, I have read a lot of posts and other tutorials talking about where a beginner roboticist should start. I have ordered Robot Builders Bonanza, I have looked at a lot of Arduino tutorials and seen discussions about Arduino and PIC and ARV. Unfortunately, I still don't know where to start.

    First of all let me say that I am really excited about robotics! I look at robotics and I see so many possibilities and so many things that they will be used for in the future! It inspires me and makes me want to start a robot /right now/.

    The problem is a lot of tutorials are for absolute beginners, and I'm not really an absolute beginner(although maybe I am and I am just naive). I am a CS major and I have thorough knowledge of C, C++, C#, and java, and have even written ASM code in MIPS and TI's assembly language. I've taken a digital logic course where we made a basic CPU and assembly language for it on a CPLD and clocked in instructions by-hand with a debounced switch and 10 input switches, and a few LED banks to show the value of the registers. I've also taken a micro-P course where we used the TI320X DSP on a custom made board to make a stopwatch with input from a keypad and output to an LCD screen. We also did other things like added some RAM to the development board and did read and writes to it. We communicated with the computer over USB. We even hooked up a speaker and made it play a song. The board came with some basic things on it, but I had to solder the vast majority of it and we used wire-wrapping to connect headers.

    I don't have any mechanical engineering experience.

    So what should I do? What microcontroller should I use? I feel like I don't really have a sense of where things are in relation to each other. I don't know the difference between a microproccessor and a microcontroller, or why you should use one product over another.

    For instance, I've used this TI320X DSP a lot for class but what makes it a DSP and would it be good for a robotics project? What kind of robotics project? Or would I want to use it in conjunction with something else? Should I get something like Arduino--I've seen a lot of tutorials for these, but I already know how to program, make an LED flash, etc, so are they still worth the time? What about FPGAs, specifically the Cyclone, my professor really liked those, but I never understood why. Are those appropriate for a first robotics project?

    I just really need some perspective, I feel like I can use the tools i've been given but I don't know the layout of the larger picture. How things fit together.

    For a first project I would just like to make something that moves around based on some input--but in the future i'd like to do something with a camera and image processing, i've read a book about image processing and have some ideas for a camera based robot.

    Thank you so much for your time and help

  2. #2
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    Re: Beginner with some experience

    Quote Originally Posted by Petrarch View Post
    I am a CS major and I have thorough knowledge of C, C++, C#, and java, and have even written ASM code in MIPS and TI's assembly language.
    I havent used TI product much (they have yet to send me some dev tools

    Microchip products however I have used. An entry level programmer is around 40 - 50 $ (pickit2 or pickit3 depending on what pic you wish to use) Fully functional with their free IDE , MPLAB.

    If you have a Student / Business email address , samples are easy to get for about 7 $ shipping.

    In addition to extremely low startup cost , Microchip offers their Applications Library , which is written in C , PC side demo apps written in C++ and C# and .net if I remember right.

    With what you have said, I think you will find these tools easy to get going with.

  3. #3

    Re: Beginner with some experience

    You could type "What is a microcontroller" in a Google search or click this link.

  4. #4
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    May 2008
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    Re: Beginner with some experience

    AVR/PIC 8-bit microcontrollers are a good starting point for many projects involving lots of I/O (sensors, motors, servos), especially if you know C/C++ and understand a bit about assembly languages. Because they are so simple, there isn't a lot that can go wrong, it's easy to track down bugs and errors. The Arduino platform is typically what I recommend, simply because there is a huge user community, and it's built around entirely open-source tools. Don't let the number of "blink an LED" tutorials discourage you, the Arduino is a seriously powerful platform for doing I/O.

    If you're looking towards vision though, then you'll probably want to move towards PC based bots. There's a number of small PC boards that allow you to run a full Linux environment with OpenCV or other packages (FitPC, PicoITX are just a few). Of course, your PC typically doesn't have digital or analog I/O -- you'll still need something like an 8-bit micro to connect to sensors/motors, and you can connect that Arduino to the PC using a serial port though, and it's quite simple.

    I tend to stay away from DSPs, higher end micros (ARM, AVR32, etc), and all the other hardware in between 8-bit micros and PCs. The reality is that the hardware changes pretty rapidly, much of it is very custom/difficult to use, and the headaches it entails are numerous -- you'll often have a hard time finding a user community to bounce ideas/problems off. Low power consumption mini PCs bring a lot to the table without asking for too much more power. (The one disclaimer here, is that if you want a walker, it's gonna be tougher to carry around a PC, either you've got to be very careful with weight or buy crazy expensive servos).

    If you're looking to do this as a hobby, you probably won't want this to turn into serious engineering stuff. If you have a specific task that requires a DSP/FPGA/ARM, you'll probably know it and go at it -- but this tends to approach real engineering work.


  5. Re: Beginner with some experience

    Thank you very much for your help. I think I am going to purchase an arduino and put a proto-board shielding above it and mess around with some of the tutorials and projects on sparkfun and ladyada. I really need to learn about motors, servos, things of that nature so I think that is my next goal. I know it doesn't seem like much, but even a few posts like those above are invaluable to me.
    Last edited by Petrarch; 03-08-2010 at 02:56 PM.

  6. #6
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    Re: Beginner with some experience

    Hehe apparently I took the hard route .

  7. #7
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    Re: Beginner with some experience

    I agree with Inxfergy based on my 15 years of experience in embedded control system design and development.
    For AVR, check out
    If you are goint to AVR, then be one of the freaks :-D
    CAD Tools: Solidworks 2011. Altium Designer 10
    Micro Controller: ARM7/9, AVR 8bit/16bit, PIC, Nordic nRF, HOLTEK, 51s, NEC
    RF: 2.4G, 433M
    IDE: KEIL MDK3.5, AVR Studio 4, MP LAB, HOLTEK HT-IDE3000, Elipse
    High End: VC, VB, Unix/Linux C/C++, J2ME (For cell phone game), SQL
    Education: EE Master.
    Hobby: RC Helicopter.

  8. Re: Beginner with some experience

    If you're familiar with programming (especially assembly language), then you won't have any problems with whatever microcontroller you choose. When it comes to software, the biggest software hurdles come from people who write code like they would on a desktop PC but can't figure out why it doesn't work on something with 1/1000 th of the power.

    Your lack of hardware experience would be what you should watch out for though. How good is your knowledge of electronics?

    If you aren't sure of your abilities, I would always recommend buying a part or kit that someone else has designed instead of trying to DIY. I know that you are here to learn, but there are just so many mistakes you can make when it comes to electronics that it is more likely to discourage you than teach you anything. You will still learn a lot from studying the existing designs. - for robot builders and enthusiasts

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