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May 20, 2016updated 22 Sep 2016 2:32pm

How to make a robot

Ever wanted an intelligent friend on wheels? CBR gives you a hand with building your own car robot.

By Joao Lima

We are still far from an Ex Machina type of scenario, however, the technology out there already allows an everyday citizen to build and program his or her own robot.

CBR runs down a five step guide on how to build a robot car.


Get your parts and assemble them

The shopping list to build a robot is not extensive and will cost as much as you are willing to spend (average cost is between $50 to $75). At the heart of the project are the boards, these can be from Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Libelium, or any other microcontroller provider out there.

Next, you will need:

– rotation servos

– wheels that fit the servos

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– caster roller

– solderless breadboard

– distance sensor with a four-pin connector cable,

– one mini push button switch with 1 10kO resistor

– set of breakaway headers,

– six AA battery holder with 9V DC power jack

– one pack of jumper wires or 22-gauge hook-up wire

– strong double-sided tape or hot glue.

Once you have all the parts, you will start with the six AA battery holder, which is the base of the robot. The servos are then glued on top of the battery pack together with the solderless breadboard.

Next, glue the board on top of the servos and attach the wheels to the sides of the servos. At the front, underneath the breadboard glue the caster roller. Now you have a piece of hardware with two wheels at the back and a roller at the front that allow free movement, just like a toy car.

Wire the power

Following on from assembling the main body parts together, it is now time to wire the robot. The first wiring stage includes breaking off two three-pin headers of the breakaway headers from your shopping list. Place them into pins of the solderless breadboard (preferably on the left hand side).

With the headers in place, push the servos’ cables and connect them to the headers. The colours of the cables are usually black, red and white, but this will depend on the brand of the servo. You will have to connect the cable of the right servo to the right header and the left servo’s cables to the left header.

It is now time to take on the jumper wires, or the gauge hook-up wires. Place two parallel wires from near the pins where the headers have been deployed to the ‘positive’ rail pins (there is a third row of pins located on the breadboard closer to the main body of the robot). Do the same thing with two wires of a different colour parallel to the original ones.

After that, take on two longer jumper wires and connect them from the pins on the breadboard to the board’s own pins. Next, attach the sensor to the front of the breadboard.

You will now need to connect the sensor to the overall cabling system. To do that, take on two jumper wires of different colours, and place them between the closest available pin next to the sensor and then to the breadboard.

With another two longer jumper wires, connect the pins next to those two cables on the breadboard to the microcontroller/board on top of the servos.

iot board robot car

Wire the battery

To generate the power, connect a jumper wire on the right hand side of the board, one on the positive and one on the negative side. Then flip the robot upside down and connect each cable to the respective positive and negative side of the battery pack holder.

With the robot now standing straight, next to the negative pin where you placed the battery jumper wire, place another wire which will this time connect to the microcontroller’s power panel. Do the same with a second wire next to the first one.

Opposite to the headers, on the right hand side of the breadboard, place the push button switch. After that, attach the resistor to connect the end of the breadboard next to the sensor to the main frame of the breadboard.

Place one last wire connecting the breadboard to the microcontroller on the left hand side of the breadboard, close to the first two wires.

Install the software and programme the robot

Once all parts have been assembled and the wiring done, the robot is physically finished. You will now need to install your microcontroller’s software and program the robot to do what you want it to do.

Most boards’ providers will allow you to download their software from the internet. The battery back jack cable can now be plugged into the microcontroller and you can also connect the microcontroller to your computer via USB (both jack and USB ports comes included with the microcontroller).

Once that is done, you should be able to find the ‘robot’ under ‘my computer’, just like you would with any USB. Click on it and follow the on screen directions.

Once done, it is time to start programming the robot. The microcontroller provider will offer you guidelines on how to do this, most likely online and through development forums.


Test run it

Once you have done all the above steps, including the coding of the robot, the device should be able to start operating by itself.

The battery back jack cable is technically the main ON and OFF ‘power button’, but you can use the switch embedded on top of the breadboard. By plugging it into the microcontroller jack port you will turn the robot ON. The opposite manoeuvre will turn it OFF.

The sensor at the front of the breadboard will help guide the device through different paths, reading the environment in front of it.

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