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To learn more about . . . Programming a robot computer or microcontroller Ideas for working with bitwise values Programming using infrared remote control Read 12, An Overview of Robot Brains 14, Computer Peripherals 16, Remote Control Systems
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CHAPTER
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COMPUTER PERIPHERALS
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he brains of a robot don t operate in a vacuum. They need to be connected to motors to make the robot move, arms and grippers to pick up things, lights and whistles to let you know what is going on, along with different sensors that give the robot the ability to understand its environment. Input is data passed from the environment sensors to the computer, and output is the computer s commands to the devices that do something. These input and output (I/O) devices are called peripherals and usually require some kind of conditioning or programming for the computer or microcontroller in the robot to be able to process information. This chapter discusses the most common and practical methods for interfacing realworld devices to computers and microcontrollers. Many of the concepts presented in this chapter are quite complex and repeated in other chapters, usually from a different perspective to help you understand them better.
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14.1 Sensors as Inputs
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By far the most common use for inputs in robotics is sensors. There are a variety of sensors, from the super simple to the amazingly complex. All share a single goal: providing the robot with data it can use to make intelligent decisions. A temperature sensor, for example, might help a robot determine if it s too hot to continue a certain operation. Or an energy
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COMPUTER PERIPHERALS
watch robot might record the temperature as it strolls throughout the house, looking for locations where the temperature varies widely (indicating a possible energy leak).
14.1.1 TYPES OF SENSORS
Broadly speaking, there are two types of sensors (see Fig. 14-1).
Digital sensors provide simple on/off or true/false results or the stepped binary results shown in Fig. 14-1. A switch is a good example of a digital sensor: either the switch is open or it s closed. An ultrasonic ranger, which returns a binary value, with each bit indicating a specific distance, is also a digital sensor. Analog sensors provide a range of values, usually a voltage. In many cases, the sensor itself provides a varying resistance or current, which is then converted by an external circuit into a voltage. For example, when exposed to light the resistance of a CdS (cadmium sulfide) cell changes dramatically. Built in a simple voltage divider, the voltage output varies with the light striking the CDS cell.
Broadly speaking, in both digital and analog sensors, the input to the computer is a voltage level. In the case of a digital sensor, the robot electronics are only interested in whether the voltage bit value is a logical low (usually 0 V) or a logical high (usually 5 V). Digital sensors can often be directly connected to a robot control computer without any additional interfacing electronics. In the case of an analog sensor, you need additional robot electronics to convert the varying voltage levels into a form that a control computer can use. This typically involves using an analog-to-digital converter, which is discussed later in this chapter.
14.1.2 EXAMPLES OF SENSORS
One of the joys of building robots is figuring out new ways of making them react to changes in the environment. This is readily done with the wide variety of affordable sensors now
Signal Is Represented by Bits, Bytes, and Other Numeric Values in Discrete Steps
Digital
Signal Is Represented by a Continuously-Variable Voltage
Analog
FIGURE 14-1 The two major sensor types: digital and analog.
14.2 INPUT AND OUTPUT METHODOLOGIES
available. New sensors are constantly being introduced, and it pays to stay abreast of the latest developments. Not all new sensors are affordable for the hobby robot builder, of course you ll just have to dream about getting that $10,000 vision system. But there are plenty of other sensors that cost much, much less; many are just a few dollars. Part 6 of this book discusses many different types of sensors commonly available today that are suitable for robotic work. Here is just a short laundry list to whet your appetite:
Sonar range finder or proximity detector. Reflected sound waves are used to judge distances or if a robot is close to an object. The detected range is typically from about a foot to 30 to 40 ft. Infrared range finder or proximity. Reflected infrared light is used to determine distance and proximity. The detected range is typically from 0 in to 2 or 3 ft. Light sensors. Various light sensors detect the presence or absence of light. Light sensors can detect patterns when used in groups (called arrays). A sensor with an array of thousands of light-sensitive elements, like a CCD video camera, can be used to construct eyes for a robot. Pyroelectric infrared. A pyroelectric infrared sensor detects changes in heat patterns and is often used in motion detectors. The detected range is from 0 to 30 ft and beyond. Speech input or recognition. Your own voice and speech patterns can be used to command the robot. Sound. Sound sources can be detected by the robot. You can tune the robot to listen to only certain sound wavelengths or to those sounds above a certain volume level. Contact switches. Used as touch sensors, when activated these switches indicate that the robot has made contact with some object. Accelerometer. Used to detect changes in speed and/or the pull of the earth s gravity, accelerometers can be used to determine the traveling speed of a robot or whether it s tilted dangerously from center. Gas or smoke. Gas and smoke sensors detect dangerous levels of noxious or toxic fumes and smoke. Temperature. A temperature sensor can detect ambient or applied heat. Ambient heat is the heat of the room or air; applied heat is some heat (or cold) source directly applied to the sensor.
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