Getting started with robotics

mobile-wheeled-robot

Want to enter Pi Wars but don’t know where to start? Got a problem with your robot you need to solve? Wondering how to tackle some of the challenges? Here are some resources to help you. We hope to grow the list over the next few weeks.

If you can think of any kits, resources or videos we haven’t listed, please leave a comment or contact us!

Basic equipment and know-how

For a basic robot that can enter Pi Wars, you need the following:

  • A Raspberry Pi (any model will do)
  • If you’re not using a Raspberry Pi 3 or Raspberry Pi Zero W, a wi-fi dongle (so you can communicate with your Pi wirelessly – The Pi Hut has a nice selection)
  • A chassis (something to attach everything to – a lot of kits come with a chassis, but you can make do with an ice cream tub or cardboard box!)
  • Motors
  • Wheels
  • Battery holder and batteries for the motors (it’s not advisable to run them off the Pi for various technical reasons).
  • USB battery pack for the Raspberry Pi (you can get these from eBay – just make sure it gives a minimum of 1A output otherwise the Pi may not get enough power)
  • A motor controller board. There are several available, including the one that comes with CamJam EduKit 3. Ryanteck has a classic one while the Picocon from 4tronix is probably the cheapest out there. Alternatively, build your own driver with a chip.
  • Wires or jumper cables to connect the controller board/circuit to the motors.
  • Cable ties, sellotape, gaffer tape, blu-tack (you need to fix everything to the chassis somehow!)
  • Sensors
  • A controller of some sort (you could control your robot from a laptop keyboard, a tablet, a mobile phone, a Wii controller, a Bluetooth controller or something else!) Take a look at Brian Corteil’s excellent guide to remote control options.

Robotics Kits

The easiest way to get started with robotics is to get hold of a kit and follow the instructions on the supplier’s site. There are a few kits out there, but here are a few recommendations, not in any particular order:

CamJam EduKit 3

This is the third in a series of basic electronics kits for the Pi. This one is all about robotics and includes (almost) everything you need to build a remote-controlled and autonomous robot. Just add batteries and your own chassis (or use the box it comes in!) and you’ll soon have built your very own buggy. Use the worksheets to learn how to use all the bits. Only £17 from The Pi Hut. Profits from the EduKits go back into CamJam/Pi Wars to allow us to run bigger and better events.

Budget Robotics Kit from Ryanteck

It includes everything you need to get going including a motor controller board, a chassis, motors and wheels. It’s only £25 and represents the best value-for-money (at the moment). It is available from Ryanteck.

CoreTec Robotics “Tiny”

Tiny 4WD is small but powerful robot that you build yourself. Unlike many other small robots, Tiny can be used outside on the patio, deck, playground even gravel paths/drives. The first Tiny was designed for the MagPi magazine “How to build a Pi Wars Robot” feature written by Brian Corteil.  The kit contains all you need to build the chassis including our Raspberry Pi camera face plate , great for computer vision projects plus a Pimoroni Explorer pHat to drive the four motors powering the large grippy wheels. The kit also includes a mini breadboard for adding sensors and help supply power to the motors.

Note:   You will need to supply the Raspberry Pi Zero, and power source.

Agobo from 4tronix

This is a lovely little kit. Ideally you use an A+, but Gareth has recently updated it to be able to use the B+ and 2B. It costs around £35 and is available from 4tronix. Check our Mike’s review of this kit on his blog.

 

agobo

GoPiGo from Dexter Industries

This is a really nicely made kit from Dexter Industries with particular attention to providing a great controller board and a really good chassis. There are two kits: one at $90, one at $200, the latter containing a lot more, including the Pi itself. More information and links to buy are available here.

Pi2Go Lite from 4tronix

This is a great kit and includes everything you need to enter our challenges including Line Follower and Proximity Alert. It costs around £40 and is available from the 4tronix online shop.

pi2golite

LEGO Mindstorms & PiStorms

PiStorms robot

You can interface with LEGO Mindstorms robotics parts by using the PiStorms interface board from mindsensors.com. It has 4 motor ports and 4 sensor ports and it allows you to attach LEGO Mindstorms NXT or EV3 components to your Raspberry Pi.

DiddyBorg from PiBorg

This is for the more serious roboteers out there. The DiddyBorg is an incredibly powerful £180 robotics kit that includes everything you need (apart from the Pi). You can see a picture of it below, and it really is a work of art. The torque on the motors is impressive and there are plenty of instructions, code samples and tutorials to get you started with it. There’s even a metal version which is even more powerful at £250. Definitely worth a look if you’re looking to splash out.

The Raspberry Pi Guy’s robotics series

Here is Matthew Timmons-Brown’s series on getting started with robotics and tackling some of the fundamental challenges you will face in competitions such as Pi Wars. He bases his series around the Pi2Go Lite.

An Open Source robot from Ipswich Makerspace

TractorBot

Keith Ellis and the guys over at Ipswich Makerspace did brilliantly well with their robot, TractorBot, at last year Pi Wars. They won Best Robot under £75 and placed very respectably in most of the challenges. (You can see the full results here). They have decided to open-source their designs and code for TractorBot, which means that other competitors this year will have a head-start on many challenges if they take the time to go through the code. Design specs will also be released so if you want a good base to start from, you could do far worse than take a look! You can read the start of their open-sourcing project here.

Discussion Forum

For general help with the Raspberry Pi, there is nowhere better than the Raspberry Pi Foundation forums. However, if you’re looking for specific help with robotics or Pi Wars, head over to the Unofficial Forum on Google Groups.

Watch a video

At the Cambridge Raspberry Jam on 17th September 2016, Brian Corteil gave an excellent talk about building a Pi Wars-winning robot. You can see a recording of that talk below:

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