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Motors and Other Outputs
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A robot uses outputs to take some physical action. Most often, one or more motors are attached to the outputs of a robot to allow the machine to move. On a mobile robot, the motors serve to drive wheels, which scoot the bot around the floor. On a stationary robot, the motors are attached to arm and gripper mechanisms, allowing the robot to grasp and manipulate objects. Motors aren t the only ways to provide motility to a robot. Your robot may use solenoids to hop around a table or pumps and valves to power pneumatic or hydraulic pressure systems. No matter what system the robot uses, the basic concepts are the same: the robot s control circuitry (e.g., a computer) provides a voltage to the output, which turns the motor, solenoid, or pump on. When voltage is removed, the motor, et al, stops.
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438 INTERFACING WITH COMPUTERS AND MICROCONTROLLERS
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OTHER COMMON TYPES OF OUTPUTS
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Other types of outputs are used for the following purposes:
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I Sound. The robot may use sound to warn you of some impending danger ( Danger, Will
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Robinson, danger! ) or to scare away intruders. If you ve built an R2-D2 like robot (from Star Wars fame), your robot might use chirps and bleeps to communicate with you. Hopefully, you ll know what bebop, pureeep! means. I Voice. Either synthesized or recorded, a voice lets your robot communicate in more human terms. I Visual indication. Using light-emitting diodes (LEDs), numeric displays, or liquid crystal displays (LCDs), visual indicators help the robot communicate with you in direct ways.
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CONSIDERING POWER-HANDLING REQUIREMENTS
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Outputs typically drive heavy loads: motors, solenoids, pumps, and even high-volume sound demand lots of current. The typical robotic control computer cannot provide more than 15 22 mA (milliamps) of current on any output. That s enough to power one or two LEDs, but not much else. To use an output to drive a load, you need to add a power element that provides adequate current. This can be as simple as one transistor, or it can be a ready-made power driver circuit capable of running large, multi-horsepower motors. One common power driver is the H-bridge, so called because the transistors used inside it are in a H pattern around the motor or other load (see 18, Working with DC Motors, for more information on H-bridges). The H-bridge can connect directly to the control computer of the robot and provides adequate voltage and current to the load.
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Input and Output Architectures
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The architecture of robots requires inputs, for such things as mode settings or sensors, as well as outputs, such as motor control or speech. As we ve already seen, the basic input and output of a computer or microcontroller are a two-state binary voltage level (off and on), usually between 0 and 5 volts. Two types of interfaces are used to transfer these HIGH/LOW digital signals to the robot s control computer: parallel and serial.
PARALLEL INTERFACING
In a parallel interface, multiple bits of data are transferred at one time using (typically) eight separate wires. Parallel interfaces enjoy high speed because more information can be shuttled about in less time. A typical parallel interface is the computer port on your personal computer. It sends data an entire byte (eight bits) at a time. When printing text, each byte represents a different character, like an A or an 8. Such characters can be represented by different combinations of the eight-bit data.
INTERFACING OUTPUTS 439
SERIAL INTERFACING
The downside to parallel interfaces is that they consume input/output lines on the robot computer or microcontroller. There are only a limited number of wires (I/O lines) on the control computer; typically 16 or even fewer. If the robot uses two 8-bit parallel ports, that leaves no I/O lines for anything else. Serial interfaces, on the other hand, conserve I/O lines because they send data on a single wire. They do this by separating a byte of information into its constituent bits, then sending each bit down the wire at a time, in single-file fashion. There are a variety of serial interface schemes, using one, two, three, or four I/O lines. Additional I/O lines are used for such things as timing and coordinating between the data sender and the data recipient. A number of the sensors you may use with your robot have serial interfaces, and on the surface it may appear they are a tad harder to interface than parallel connections. But, in fact, they aren t if you use the right combination of hardware and software. Before you can use the serial data from the sensor, you have to clock out all of the bits and assemble them into 8- or 16-bit data, which is used to represent some meaningful value (such as distance between the sensor and some object, for example). The task of reconstructing serial data is made easier when you use a computer or microcontroller because software on the control computer does all the work for you. The Basic Stamp II, for example, provides a single command that does just this job. You can read more about computers and other electronic control for your robot in the remaining chapters of this section of the book.
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