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1.6 Robots Are Not Just Hardware
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Many people may feel discouraged by the previous discussion because it means they have to do a lot of programming. Some may say: I just want to build a robot I don t want to sit and program all day . Without software and sensors a robot is nothing more than a motorized toy. An autonomous mobile robot needs to be able to make its own decisions about how to react to its environment. Autonomous robots are more challenging to design, but are much more versatile and useful. Imagine if the Mars Rover was not autonomous. Controllers on Earth trying to manipulate it would be very frustrated due to the fact that signals from Earth take nearly 10 minutes (depending on orbital positions) to reach Mars and vice versa. So a human trying to remote control the robot would have to wait a considerable time to see the results of the most recent control input and a considerable time to be able to command a correction. The robot can fall off a ledge, or collide with a rock by the time a corrective command reaches it. The only way to have an effective Mars Rover is to build it with a collection of intelligent algorithms to autonomously achieve the desired tasks. An algorithm that controls a robot s behavior is basically a set of rules that tell it how to respond to various situations as de ned by the state of its sensors. As these rules become more numerous and more complex you will start to see the robot behave in ways you never expected. The robot may appear to deal intelligently with situations you never
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even considered when you wrote the program. At the other extreme, your robot might look really unintelligent when it encounters some situations. Programming your robot, or your simulator, is how you give it life. It is how you create its personality and how you determine its behavior. Once you appreciate this concept your experience with building robots will be enhanced and enriched. The RobotBASIC simulator will help you learn to program a real robot, and you will soon nd that it can be just as challenging as programming the real thing. You may also be surprised to nd that it can be just as exciting and rewarding too. You may not believe that a simulator can make you feel this way, but trust us, RobotBASIC can.
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1.7 RobotBASIC Teaches Programming
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Novice programmers learn programming much faster when they are writing programs to solve real-world problems (like programming a robot). A simulator helps them see aws in their programs because they get immediate and useful feedback on the effectiveness of their algorithms. This feedback alone is a compelling reason for using a language such as RobotBASIC to teach programming, but there are additional advantages. Typically, students in a programming class write small programs that only demonstrate some concept or syntax. Unfortunately, these initial programs are often extremely boring to students because there is little relevance to real-world problems. It has been our experience that programming a robot is a valuable teaching tool for everyone from young children to college students. When introduced to the robot properly, students nd controlling it enjoyably challenging and viewing its responses helpful in their understanding of programming principles. Furthermore, since the programs being written address real situations, the students learn problem-solving skills that are hard to obtain by other means. Above all, students who learn programming with a simulator have fun. They enjoy learning how to make their creation smarter. They want to learn about new concepts, new syntax, and new techniques to improve their programs. Teachers know this makes a big difference.
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1.8 Summary
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In this chapter you have learned that: RobotBASIC is a programming language that allows you to simulate a robot with realistic behavior. Simulators are used in many elds, and are a valuable training and prototyping tool. RobotBASIC is easy to use yet full of powerful features. Both the novice and the experienced programmer can create realistic, enjoyable, and effective simulations. RobotBASIC s debugger gives you insight into the robot s view of the environment, which aids in developing more effective algorithms. Building simulations with RobotBASIC enables you to make better choices when it is time to design and build a real robot. Robots without a well-designed controller program are no more than a toy. Learning to program with RobotBASIC is more fun and more effective than traditional methods.
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