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12.3 TYPES OF COMPUTERS FOR ROBOTS
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12.3.4.1 IBM PC-Compatible Laptops Motherboards from desktop IBM PCcompatible computers can be a pain to use because of the power supply requirements. A laptop on the other hand is an ideal robot-control computer. The built-in battery and display avoid the need for a number of custom power supplies and a display device for the robot. Check online auction sites such as Ebay, a used computer store, or your local classified ads for used units. You should use the laptop as-is, without removing its parts and mounting them on the robot. That way, you can still access the keyboard and display. Use the parallel, serial, and USB ports on the laptop to connect to the robot. You should not use the laptop s batteries for powering the robot. While they are quite sophisticated and provide a great deal of power, they are designed for the load of the laptop, adding a significant load will cause them to run down faster and be potentially damaged by the extra drain of the robot s motors. You may find that it is impossible to run the robot from the laptop s batteries protection and monitoring circuitry built into the laptop and the battery packs may detect the additional load and shut down the system fearing that the additional load is a short circuit or a problem with the battery pack itself. 12.3.4.2 Operating Systems If you make the decision to use a PC motherboard (or even a complete PC) in your robot, you will have to make the nontrivial decision on what type of operating system you are going to run and what features you are going to have on it. Fortunately, there are a lot of web sites, books, and other resources that will help you set up the operating system, support libraries, and application code, but you will have to spend some time thinking about how everything should work and what features you want to have available. The first question you should ask yourself is, what features do you want to have available in the operating system running on your robot s PC The obvious answer is as few as possible to minimize the amount of space that will be used for the operating system. The reason behind this answer is correct; but the decision point isn t the operating system that is loaded onto the robot s PC should be as small as possible, but it should have as many features built into it as possible. The reason for wanting as many features as possible is to give you as many options as possible for how the PC will run. While you should avoid running the PC motherboard from a hard disk or CD-ROM, you still want to have the drivers loaded and active in the system in case you want to use them later. Similarly, network interface card (NIC) drivers should be installed along with USB, serial, parallel, and other motherboard interfaces. You should not restrict any flexibility in the PC motherboard s operation until you have finished and perfected the robot (which will probably never happen). The question you should now be asking is, what else is there to take out If everything is being left in, there isn t that much space left to save. Actually there is one big piece that you can take out and that is the graphical user interface the Windows interface that you work with is at least half the total size of the operating system on disk and in memory. With it taken out, you should have an operating system that will only require 60 MB or so of storage small enough to fit on a USB Flash thumb or key drive with the application code included. Loading applications or other files is as simple as plugging the USB thumb drive into your PC and copying the files into it, just as you would copy files between folders. If you were not to use a USB thumb drive, you
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