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People could have used some of the (expensive) personal computers (PC) of the day, but the size of these machines and the methods for powering them severely affected the mobility and size of the robot. 17.1.2 HOBBY ROBOTICS TODAY In recent years hobby robotics has changed dramatically. Around the world, members of robot clubs are building ever more sophisticated robots as they challenge each other to expand their creativity and problem-solving skills. Certainly the low-cost and availability of powerful microcontrollers has added to the interest in robotics. Schools are discovering that adding robotics to their curriculum increases student interest, not only in robotics, but in mathematics and science as well. Regardless of the reasons for the growth, the results are a great number of people interested in hobby robotics and a booming industry catering to a tremendous demand. Robot kits are now available from many companies. You can buy robots with wheels and robots with legs. You can get robots that balance and robots that climb. Even toy companies like LEGO offer robot kits with amazing power and versatility. 17.1.3 THE PARADIGM SHIFT The wide variety of ready-to-use robot components is changing the nature of hobby robotics. In the past hobbyists needed to build a robot. Today they can buy the parts and assemble one with minimal effort. Because of this, the hobbyist today can concentrate on programming the robot. This means that now they can create a robot that can actually do something interesting and maybe even useful (a feat almost never accomplished until recently). The change that is taking place in the eld of hobby robotics parallels the revolution that took place in the PC industry. If you wanted a computer in the early 1970s, you had to build it yourself, almost from scratch. Less than 10 years later computer hobbyists could buy completely assembled systems from companies like Apple, Radio Shack, and IBM. Almost overnight, the nature of the hobby turned from soldering and bread-boarding to programming. The new hobby programmers were able to make the toy computers solve real-world problems and everything changed. Hobby robotics is poised to change the world in a similar manner. The progress to intelligent machines will be hindered so long as robot hobbyists continue to give priority to constructing a robot and neglect the importance of programming it. It was the intelligence of software that gave simple hobby computers capabilities and utility that made many corporations prefer them over the giant mainframe systems they were using. This quickly transformed personal computing from a hobby to a business that changed the world. The hardware needed to build a robot is now readily available, and creating a capable robot is within the reach of anyone. If you visit a robot club today you will see many robots that have been assembled from a variety of standard parts and sensors and you will observe that the emphasis is shifting from building a robot to programming a robot. Programming a robot is a crucial activity in robotics. Constructing the robot s hardware and electronics is a great deal of fun and can be very satisfying, but, the robot will not be
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able to achieve much without the right arti cial intelligence (AI) algorithms that enable it to autonomously carry out useful tasks. The hardware and software on a robot should work together to achieve the task. Nevertheless, the algorithm is what matters. The hardware required to achieve the task and the details of how it is to be made to function is of importance ultimately. However, the amount, type, and con guration of transducers (sensors), actuators (motors), and the shape, size, and type of the robot itself are details worked out as a result of the algorithms that are developed to solve the tasks the robot is meant to solve. Programming an actual robot can be a daunting task due to the development cycle that has to be followed:
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1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.
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Build a robot and equip it with a microcontroller. Mount and align the sensors. Connect the microcontroller to a PC running a software development environment. Download a program to the robot. Unplug the robot. Place the robot in the test environment. Turn the robot on and watch the results of your programming.
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If the robot does not function properly, you will have to repeat steps 2 to 6 until you arrive at a working program. Finally, when the robot functions you still need to test the robot in other environments to ensure that the robot will function in all environments it is likely to encounter. Devising and building test environments can be time-consuming and costly. Additionally, the robot may get damaged if it does not function properly. Furthermore, if the robot that is being used is not adequate for the task, you may have to abandon the hardware and start from square one. You can see that this cycle is cumbersome. If problems are encountered, the debugging process can be unwieldy. Due to the awkwardness of the entire process, the programmer may tend to accept the rst-working solution instead of continuing to hone the program until it performs optimally. RobotBASIC lets everyone get right to the heart of robotics. They don t have to build anything or even assemble anything. They can start learning how to program a robot right away. There is no need to build environments for testing. There is no need to safeguard the robot from damage. There is no reason why you cannot keep improving the algorithm to the optimum point. There is no reason why you cannot test the robot exhaustively. You can experiment with different con gurations and combinations of sensors. You can experiment with different algorithms and different situations. This is a major paradigm shift in thinking about robotics. Most hobbyists who use RobotBASIC to learn how software can give real intelligence to a robot will eventually want to build an actual robot. After programming simulations, hobbyists will have a much better appreciation of the type and con guration of hardware their robot needs to achieve the target tasks. Knowing what type of hardware you need and how to put it together can be a major cost- and time-saving. The remainder of this chapter discusses a variety of ways to use the algorithms developed in RobotBASIC with real-world robots.
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