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The Internet has given a tremendous boost to the art and science of robot building. Through the Internet and more specifically the World Wide Web you can now search for and find the most elusive part for your robot. Most of the major surplus and electronics mail order companies provide online electronic catalogs. You can visit the retailer at their Web site and either browse their offerings by category or use a search feature to quickly locate exactly what you want. Moreover, with the help of Web search engines such as Google (www.google.com), Altavista (www.altavista.com), and HotBot (www.hotbot.com) you can search for items of interest from among the millions of Web sites throughout the world. Search engines provide you with a list of Web pages that may match your search query. You can then visit the Web pages to see if they offer what you re looking for. Of course, don t limit your use of the Internet and the World Wide Web to just finding parts. You can also use them to find a plethora of useful information on robot building. See Appendix B, Sources, and Appendix C, Robot Information on the Internet, for categorized lists of useful robotics destinations on the Internet. These lists are periodically updated at www.robotoid.com. A number of Web sites offer individuals the ability to buy and sell merchandise. Most of these sites are set up as auctions: someone posts an item to sell and then waits for people to make bids on it. Robotics toys, books, kits, and other products are common finds on Web auction sites like eBay (www.ebay.com) and Amazon (www.amazon.com). If your design requires you to pull the guts out of a certain toy that s no longer made, try finding a used one at a Web auction site. The price should be reasonable as long as the toy is not a collector s item. Keep in mind that the World Wide Web is indeed worldwide. Some of the sites you find may not be located in your country. Though many Web businesses ship internationally, not all will. Check the Web site s fine print to determine if the company will ship to your country, and note any specific payment requirements. If they accept checks or money orders, the denomination of each must be in the company s native currency.
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You don t always need to buy new (or used or surplus) to get worthwhile robot parts. In fact, some of the best parts for hobby robots may already be in your garage or attic. Consider the typical used VCR, for example. It ll contain at least one motor (and possibly as many as five), numerous gears, and other electronic and mechanical odds and ends. Depending on the brand and when it was made, it could also contain belts and pulleys, infrared receiver modules, miniature push buttons, infrared light-emitting diodes and detectors, and even wire harnesses with multipin connectors. Any and all of these can be salvaged to help build your robot. All told, the typical VCR may have over $50 worth of parts in it.
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Never throw away small appliances or mechanical devices without taking them apart and scavenging the good stuff. If you don t have time to disassemble that CD player that s skipping on all of your compact discs, throw it into a pile for a rainy day when you do have a free moment. Ask friends and neighbors to save their discards for you. You d be amazed how many people simply toss old VCRs, clock radios, and other items into the trash when they no longer work. Likewise, make a point of visiting garage sales and thrift stores from time to time, and look for parts bonanzas in used and perhaps nonfunctioning goods. I regularly scout the local thrift stores (Goodwill, Disabled American Veterans, Salvation Army, Amvets, etc.) and for very little money come away with a trunk full of valuable items I can salvage for parts. Goods that are still in functioning order tend to cost more than the broken stuff, but for robot building the broken stuff is just as good. Be sure to ask the store personnel if they have any nonworking items they will sell you at a reasonable cost. Here is just a short list of the electronic and mechanical items you ll want to be on the lookout for and the primary robot-building components they have inside:
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I VCRs are perhaps the best single-source for parts, and they are in plentiful supply (hun-
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dreds of millions of them have been built since the mid 1970s). As discussed above, you ll find motors, switches, LEDs, cable harnesses, and IR receiver modules on many models. CD players have optical systems you can gut out if your robot uses a specialty vision system. Apart from the laser diode, CD players have focusing lenses, miniature multicell photodiode arrays, diffraction gratings, and beam splitters, as well as micro-miniature motors and a precision lead-screw positioning device (used by the laser system to read the surface of the CD). Fax machines contain numerous motors, gears, miniature leaf switches, and other mechanical parts. These machines also contain an imaging array (it reads the page to fax it) that you might be able to adapt for use as robotic sensors. Mice, printers, old scanners, disk drives, and other discarded computer peripherals contain valuable optical and mechanical parts. Mice contain optical encoders that you can use to count the rotations of your robot s wheels, printers contain motors and gears, disk drives contain stepper motors, and scanners contain optics you can use for vision systems and other sensors on your robot. The old handheld scanners popular a few years ago are ideal for use as image sensors. Mechanical toys, especially the motorized variety, can be used either for parts or as a robot base. When looking at motorized vehicles, favor those that use separate motors for each drive wheel (as opposed to a single motor for both wheels). Smoke alarms have a useful life of about seven years. After that, the active element in the smoke sensor is depleted to the point where, for safety reasons, the detector should be replaced. Many homeowners replace their smoke alarms more frequently, and the sensor within them is still good. You can gut the parts and use them in your Smokey the Robot project.
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