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Personal Robotics

Covers all aspects of robotic design, construction, components, modifications, programming, as well as other peripheral topics. Information and techniques featured here are regular topics of discussion on the Internet and other robotics forums. This is the longest running continuous column ever in Nuts & Volts. Started in November 1992 and written by Karl Lunt through May 1998. June 1998 introduced new author Robert Nansel who handled the duties until retiring in August 2002. For a while, monthly installments were guest hosted by various authors. Then Mike Keesling took over the bi-monthly helm. Phil Davis stepped in next, taking the column back to a monthly until May 2007.  Guest columnist filled in until the October 2007 issue when Vern Graner took over the writing position.  Started in November 1992 as a feature article series. Changed to a column in January 1993.


Articles from this Column

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The Ponginator
By Vern Graner
December 2007, Page 20
When we think of personal robotics, we usually think of personal as referring to size, i.e., a personal digital assistant or a personal computer. Things that usually are small enough to fit in a shoe box or at least fit on your workbench...

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Evolution of a Roboticist
By Vern Graner
November 2007, Page 20
Recently, the good folks at Nuts & Volts asked if I would take on the monthly Personal Robotics column...

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Evolution of the BoogieBot Mobile Platform
By Vern Graner
October 2007, Page 84
Music has been a big part of my life as far back as I can remember. I’ve played music in bands, composed and produced music, and (for a short time in the ‘80s) I even made my living playing in a rock band...

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Magnetic Inchworm
By Bryan Bergeron
September 2007, Page 75
Continue reading to learn how to build a simple robot designed to travel over steel or iron surfaces — a magnetic inchworm — with a few servos, a pair of neodymium magnets, and an R/C system...

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Biologically Inspired Robots
By Bryan Bergeron
August 2007, Page 78
Developers of biologically inspired robots borrow from systems and methods found in nature with a goal of producing a more efficient, capable, or cost-effective robot than would be possible through traditional means...

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Combat Robots Return to North Carolina
By Pete Smith
July 2007, Page 87
A few years ago, North Carolina was one of the best places to live if you were interested in combat robotics. There were two major events held each year in the state...

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Parameters On The Fly - Part 3
By Phil Davis
May 2007, Page 12
This month, I would like to wrap up the design and functioning of the Hand-Held Console by showing you the completed device and by posting the software online for all to use.

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Parameters On the Fly - Part 2
By Phil Davis
April 2007, Page 12
Last month, I conceptually designed a hand-held console which would allow one to remotely change critical parameters in their autonomous robot. Since last month, I decided that I wanted to go into more detail on the software and some of the hardware...

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Parameters On the Fly - Part 1
By Phil Davis
March 2007, Page 92
Whenever I build a robot, there are always variables and constants which need to be adjusted to make sure the bot does just what I want it to; the problem is, it’s usually a pain to change these. So, how can we make this better?

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Personal Robotics - Part 2
By Phil Davis
February 2007, Page 13
Last month, I went over the process of constructing my homemade Motor Test Lab. Since then, I made a couple of changes to the basic design before using it to test a couple of motors. The first change I made was to add a block connector and a switch...

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Personal Robotics - Part 1
By Phil Davis
January 2007, Page 87
Being an amateur roboticist, I am always looking for parts of varying kinds from which to build robots and, since most of the bots I like to construct are mobile, one of the major requirements are brushed DC motors.

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Building A Balancing Bot On A Budget - Part 2
By Phil Davis Brandon Heller
December 2006, Page 74
For those who missed the October issue, or anyone who could use a refresher, we’ll start with a recap of the robot’s design. See Photo 1 for a look at the finished robot, balancing...

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The Saga Of The Silver Bomber - Part 2
By Phil Davis Ken Tait
November 2006, Page 18
In Part 1 of this article (two months ago), we explored how finding some surplus Silver Bombers led to the development of a controller for the motors they contained. We explained what would be required to run various motors of this size and came up with a practical design...

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Building A Balancing Bot On A Budget - Part 1
By Phil Davis Brandon Heller
October 2006, Page 12
You were probably expecting to see Part 2 of the Saga of the Silver Bomber here, instead of this article on a Balancing Bot. To cut a long story short, we left off last month on the Silver Bomber motor controller, with everything designed and just waiting for parts. So, we waited and waited, but only about half the parts came in. Unfortunately, everything appears to be back-ordered, most likely due to the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substance Directive) which is all about ‘lead free’ parts...

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The Saga Of The Silver Bomber - Part 1
By Phil Davis
September 2006, Page 28
One day Jerry came across some broken Silver Bomber scooters at an industrial surplus house he frequents in town. Talking to the owner, he discovered they had multiple palettes of the stuff lying around. Originally, the owner wanted $35 a scooter — not too bad considering they sold new for $199 plus...

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Designing A Mini Sumo - Part 2
By Phil Davis
August 2006, Page 82
For those just joining or the uninitiated, a Mini Sumo Robot and Mini Sumo competitions take their name from the Japanese form of wrestling called Sumo. In this case, two robots (smaller than 4 x 4 inches) combat in a black ring just over 30 inches in diameter, bounded by a one-inch border. For three minutes, each robot attempts to locate the other and push it off the edge...

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Design A Mini Sumo - Part 1
By Phil Davis
July 2006, Page 26
LAST SPRING, OUR ROBOTICS CLUB scheduled a Mini Sumo competition for the summer of 2005. Of coarse, no one had a Mini Sumo robot, so a mad frenzy of ideas, concepts, and parts ensued.

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Zen And The Art Of Zigbee - Part 3
By Phil Davis Joe Stramagila
June 2006, Page 18
In this last article of the series, I want to talk about using Zigbee in a Star configuration, which will allow you to drive multiple robots from your PC, addressing each one in turn, or sending a broadcast which all will respond to. I also want to show you how to “hack” the Freescale Sard card so you can take PWM directly off the card, giving you the ability to proportionally control two motors. In addition, we’ve also built a small robot as a demonstrator.

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Zen And The Art Of Zigbee - Part 2
By Phil Davis
May 2006, Page 78
Okay, last month we briefly discussed some of the architecture and network topology possibilities of Zigbee along with many of its capabilities. As promised, this month, I want to demonstrate a simple project in which a peer-to-peer Zigbee connection will be used to control a robot using simple commands and to receive data sent back from the robot...

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Zen And The Art Of Zigbee - Part 2
By Phil Davis
April 2006, Page 80
I’ve chosen Zigbee as my first topic for Personal Robotics because ... well, because it’s cool. In this issue of Nuts & Volts, we’ll begin a general discussion on what Zigbee is, its basic functionality, where to get it, and the associated software. Parts 2 and 3 will be in subsequent issues. In Part 2, we will follow a project in which a simple peer-to-peer Zigbee connection will be used to control a robot, and Part 3 will attempt to show a more complex mesh topology...

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Robo-Potpourri
By Mike Keesling
February 2006, Page 28
Yes folks, it is time for Robo-Potpourri. Robo-Potpourri is the lost and found of my writing endeavors, a time to pick up little loose ends and such.

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Me And Mini Me
By Dave Prochnow
December 2005, Page 18
Gosh, it’s tough being a mad scientist these days. There are no good secret agents left to torment (Bond, who?), you can buy lasers at virtually any strip mall, and everybody’s far too busy for world domination. So what’s an evildoer to do?

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The Ball Bot
By Mike Keesling
October 2005, Page 34
To recap, a simple description of the Ball Bot would be “a two-axis inverted pendulum.” The operative word here is simple. In its implementation, it is three belt-reduced, encoded motors driving some Omniwheels sitting on top of abasketball — with a bunch of inertial sensors and a DSP thrown in for good measure.

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Hey, Mikey Likes It!
By Mike Keesling
August 2005, Page 82
A Review on the Hexcrawler HDATS

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Bouncing Ideas Around for a Ball Bouncing Robot
By Mike Keesling
June 2005, Page 22
The bug has been stirring in me for quite some time. I rued over doing a giant, 22’ long robotic centipede with 36 cheap electric drills. I considered doing a seven-joint-per-leg biped, and even a 10-legged scorpion. After several days of incessant moaning at work, my co-workers suggested that I build a one-legged hopper. Now, I have done some stupid things on a dare, and although I am mad, I most certainly am not crazy.

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LEGO My ...
By Mike Keesling
April 2005, Page 0
LEGO® has become something of a household word. If you grew up in the 50s or later, you probably owned a set or hoped to, in any case. It is not only a part of our culture, but also has international appeal. LEGO started out making small wooden toys in the 1930s. They slowly grew, adding plastics to their repertoire of materials.

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Basic Language Comparisons
By Mike Keesling
February 2005, Page 0
As we approach middle age, we often try to re-assert our youth. For some, this manifests itself as an overwhelming need to buy a red Corvette, sunglasses, and possibly trade in the old wife for one with that “new wife smell.” For geeks like me, we remember the old days when a computer was powerful if it had a video screen, mass storage was something you did with an audio cassette, and Basic was this remarkable language that allowed you to make your computer do amazing feats...

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A Look at Robotic Behavior
By Mike Keesling
December 2004, Page 0
At the rate I have been adding motors, drivers, and sensors to my projects, I will be in a lot of trouble in only a few years. I have done 12 motored centipedes, 18 jointed hexapods, and I am planning a robotic ecosystem with 30 robots with three motors each. Of course, at some point, this has to stop; I’ll need to scale back.

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PERSONAL ROBOTICS
By Mike Keesling
September 2004, Page 0
Some of us build robots for the educational aspects, others for a creative outlet. Some of us undoubtedly have a god complex or parenthood issues, but there is one thing that you can’t deny and that is that robots are great for impressing your friends.

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PERSONAL ROBOTICS
By Mike Keesling
August 2004, Page 0
This month, I would like to take a few words to update everyone on the progress of some of my other projects, tease you with some new ones, talk about some things that don’t warrant a whole article, and talk a little philosophically.

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PERSONAL ROBOTICS
By Mike Keesling
July 2004, Page 0
It sounds easy, but — for many of us — it is a major mental block. We dream and hope, yet cannot achieve. I go through the same thing when it comes to programming or writing, but the difference is, you can easily destroy something if you build it improperly, but playing with words and code is like playing with vapor. Like the old saying, “but words will never hurt me,” code doesn’t break like physical things do.

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PERSONAL ROBOTICS
By L. Paul Verhage
June 2004, Page 0
Often, we need our robot to make or break a circuit. This lets our robot operate a sensor, emit a warning tone, or even fire photon torpedoes. While we humans are really great at pushing buttons, robots have a problem because they tend to lack fingers and opposable thumbs. So just how do robots turn on and off circuits?

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PERSONAL ROBOTICS
By Mike Keesling
May 2004, Page 0
Let’s face it, the real core of robotics is information processing. What is done with the information a robot gathers truly determines its behavior. At the simplest level, that information could be a series of commands and times to perform them. Even at that level, there is still sensing going on; in this case, we are sensing the ticks of a clock. While this is a great start, watching your robot roll off your desk or ram into a wall because it had no sense of its surroundings gets old really fas

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Universal Robotics Controller
By Mike Keesling
March 2004, Page 80
Very often, in our quest for functionality, we stray away from our processor of choice when we need a feature that just isn't found in our magic bag of tricks. Often times, we are forced to look in directions we wouldn't normally consider.

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Robo Resolution 2009
By Vern Graner
January 2009, Page 15
My New Year's resolution is 1650x1280.

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The Probotix Fireball V90 CNC Router
By Vern Graner
December 2008, Page 69
In this month’s issue, we construct the PROBOTIX FireBall V90 CNC router from a kit and then put it through its paces.

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ROBOBENCH : Putting the CrustCrawler AX-12+ “Smart Arm” To Work
By Vern Graner
November 2008, Page 15
It’s inevitable. When working on a project at your workbench, at some point you’ll wish that you had a third hand. When you’re holding together two parts that need to be soldered or you need a screwdriver but you don’t want to take your eyes off of some small parts to reach for it, an extra hand would be awfully uhm ... “handy.”

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The Peanut Butter Monster Detector
By Vern Graner
October 2008, Page 68
Build this robotic bedside companion to help ease your child’s nighttime fears.

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Habitat For Hobbies (Part 2)
By Vern Graner
September 2008, Page 78
In this month’s column, I’ll complete the series by showing my own workspace (it’s only fair, after all), sharing a bit of my design approach, and announcing the winners of the Workbench Design Challenge!

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DORKBOT People Doing Weird Things With Electricity
By Vern Graner
August 2008, Page 68
So, you’ve been working on your electronic masterpiece for a few weeks (months?) and it’s finally finished, so ... now what? Where can you go to show off your little beauty, the child of your imagination, the fruits of your labor? How about Dorkbot?

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Power Flowers
By Vern Graner
July 2008, Page 82
As I am still in the process of summarizing the great feedback I received from folks about the Habitat article, I’m not quite ready to publish Habitat for Hobbies Part 2. Instead, I’ve decided to take a different approach this month and present a simple robotic project that should be within the grasp of most electronic hobbyists. The idea is to create some neat moving effects using a single servo motor andsomething many of us have lurking in a cabinet in the kitchen...

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Habitat For Hobbies (Part 1)
By Vern Graner
June 2008, Page 92
Just as most biological entities require A specific habitat to flourish, hobbies such as robotics and electronics need a place to live and grow. Specifically, the hobbyist workbench.

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A Droid Of Your Own
By Vern Graner
May 2008, Page 78
Is it possible to buy a “kit” of R2-D2 parts and make your own full-sized replica R2-D2 droid? Nope. Is it possible to find a group of talented builders and crafters who are passionate about building droids and who will go to great lengths to help you create your own? You betcha!

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A Preview Of The New Digiencabulator
By Vern Graner
April 2008, Page 16
Many of us have read about (and drooled over!) some of the amazing gadgets the major names in robotics development have displayed over the last couple of decades. Just watching the DARPA Grand Challenge has shown us high-end “LADAR” laser range finders, massive multi-processor computers, and custom-written fuzzy logic based AI computer vision systems...

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Virtual Robotics
By Vern Graner
March 2008, Page 20
Can you work with robotics if you don’t have a robot?

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Ping Pong Printer
By Vern Graner
February 2008, Page 14
In the December issue, I told you the story of The Ponginator — a 20-foot tall ping pong ball shooting, video screen sporting, light blinking, sound-blasting robot that the Robot Group built for Maker Faire in Austin, TX (Figure 1). The Ponginator was quite a hit, firing eight ping pong balls hundreds of feet out over the crowd every 30 minutes or so. Each ball was custom printed with the logo from The Robot Group and Maker Faire (Figure 2). Though a big success, one thing that sorta snuck up...

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Robo Spin Art
By Vern Graner
January 2008, Page 70
The venerable spin art machines popularized in the 1960s and 1970s created funky, psychedelic artwork many of us remember from the carnivals and county fairs of our youth. Simply put, “spin art” is created when paint is dropped on to a rotating paper, allowing centrifugal force to make streaks of color. The RoboSpinArt machine updates this concept by making spin art attractive to the so-called “joystick generation” of today while also adding on features to the original design.

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Pneumatics In Robotics
By Vern Graner
February 2009, Page 81
Let's dip our toe into some possibly unfamiliar waters as we explore the world of electronically controlled pneumatic actuators for hobby robotic and animatronic mechanisms.

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Robotics on a Budget
By Vern Graner
March 2009, Page 71
Most towns have a thrift store or other shops that recycle and resell clothes, toys, household wares, and the like. In many cases, you'll find these stores carry lots of useful electronics that can be picked up for a song.

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Robot Art
By Vern Graner
April 2009, Page 49
In an attempt to explore some of the interesting and inspiring ways art and technology intertwine, this month we will focus on a number of works from some talented technoartisans who have used technology and robotics to pursue their muse in interesting and ingenious ways.

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The Saga of a Sonar Station
May 2009, Page 16
Follow the unique build experience of an interactive kiosk.

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Das BlinkenBoard
By Vern Graner
June 2009, Page 58
The search for the "perfect" blinken board results in a versatile, scratch built, feature rich design, that you can build!

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The Probotix Fireball V90 CNC Visited
By Vern Graner
July 2009, Page 60
In that article, we detailed the PROBOTIX Fireball v90 — one of the first high-accuracy/sub-$1,000 CNC systems on the market.

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Solar Tracker
By Samuel Aaron Ward
August 2009, Page 22
A solar-tracking power supply for a mobile unit; a device that not only provides power to sustain its own functions (tracking the sun for optimal energy collection), but also for propulsion and steering of an unmanned vehicle.

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The Dungeon Keeper
By Vern Graner
September 2009, Page 82
So, how about we make an animatronic body for our talking skull and put him in a creepy coffin so he can beckon them forward with a flickering candle? Though this may sound like a pretty big project, it's actually rather straight-forward and, if you start now, you should be able to have your own Dungeon Keeper ready to thrill the kids and wow the parents for this Halloween!

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The Halloween Prop Dropper
By Vern Graner
October 2009, Page 52
The Prop Dropper is designed to detect the presence of a person, rapid-deploy a small prop, display it for a moment, then wind it back up out of view, ready for its next victim

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Try, Try Again
By Vern Graner
November 2009, Page 61
My direct experience has taught me that nothing is ever as easy as it looks. Experience has also taught me that when things get complicated, a methodical and consistent approach is typically the best course of action.

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The Parallax Stingray Robot
By Vern Graner
December 2009, Page 56
Stronger than a BOEBOT, more powerful than a pen-wielding Scribbler, easier to carry than a QuadRover, the Parallax Stingray mobile robotic platform has landed!