Design it to the Nth degree

On this page we have created a list of tips for building robots. These tips will work for pretty much any robot or project that you want to build. We find that some people starting out in a new hobby have trouble with the building robots because they gloss over the design and jump in. Consider all the elements before picking up the materials or tools. Some of the concepts we use for design are described below.

 

Here are a few things to consider the next time you start a design.

  1. Goals: Come up with a concrete end goal or goals that you would like the robot to do. This may be as simple as “follow the light”, or as hard as “picking up a red ball and putting it in the bin in the corner.” This type of approach will help you plan out the robot before the first pencil sketch or Google sketch.
  2. Sketch, sketch, sketch: We can’t stress enough how getting a design for a robot down on paper will help more than almost anything else. Sketching allows you to save material for your robot, as you will only need to buy as much as you need and not more. This also helps you make sure you have room for everything you would like by drawing all the components and their places in relation to one another.
  3. Use the “KISS” rule “Keep it simple, Stupid.”:  The more complicated you make a subsystem of the robot, the more parts there are to break.  Keep the lines clean and flowing and try to make them organic more then boxy. Boxy robots are only good for one thing, getting stuck.
  4. Use light weight yet strong materials: If your robot is mobile, the last thing you want to do is weigh it down with bulky and heavy materials. Consider plastic or aluminum for base materials and keep the heavy weight items, like batteries, low on the robot. This will also help keep the center of gravity low so the robot is not top heavy. If you have the budget, try using fiberglass or carbon fiber for base panels and structural elements.
  5. Stay away from lead acid batteries or non rechargeable batteries. These are often too heavy and do not have very many charge cycles. A great alternative is lithium phosphate batteries, as they are about half the weight of lead acids and maintain the same capacity. This chemistry type normally has over 2000 charge/discharge cycles. Tenergy makes some very affordable batteries and charging systems that are prefect for larger robots. These can be found at Amazon.
  6. Build round if you can: We have found the best base designs are made with round base plates. These not only look better than a square base, but they allow the robot to overcome many obstacles that would get other frames stuck.
  7. Be lean with the power usage. Each component alone may not take many watts but on a mobile platform there is often a finite amount of power that a base can carry. When you add all the power usage of each individual part you will often be surprised on how much power they will consume.
  8. Try Google sketch-up: This program is so easy to use. We highly suggest using it if you can. There is no downside to viewing a 3D model of a project. Link to the download site for Sketch-up
  9. When you are ready you can use a much nicer design software like Autodesk Fusion 360. which is free for individuals and companies that make less then 100k a year.