The Puppeteer: On the Hobby of Building Robots and Drones

Robotics for FunThe advances in modern technology have led to the field of robotics emerging as a frontier discipline combining the multiple sciences. The field of robotics and Mechatronics is formed from the union of computer, electronics and mechanical engineering. For the most part, it is used in research and development as well as industrial applications. But while it is used for serious fields and applications, it can also be an interesting hobby. That’s right, some do it for fun.

The field of robotics and Mechatronics deal in the design, building, operation and maintenance of robots. Robots in nonprofessional’s term are machines with pre-programmed instructions designed to fulfil a certain role. They are moving machines that can take in, store and process information as well as perform actions. This phenomenon of creating technological wonder has in fact already become part of everyday life, so much so that some have taken it for a hobby.

A robot is a machine that can fulfil the four functions of a computer: accept input, store data, process that data, and give output. For example, robots are equipped with sensors such as infrared, weight, heat, and motion to get stimuli from its environment. This stimulus is in turn converted into electrical signals that will then be processed by the robot’s brain. The component that does the thinking for the robot is the microcontroller unit (MCU). These small computers can process data and run it through its programming to give the desired output. Once the MCU determines the course of action it will take from the information gathered by its sensors, it then motions for its actuators to move according to their functions. That is the framework how robots work.

Now with robots becoming more and more widespread, it is not uncommon to see a neighbour fly his own remote-controlled drone. For gearheads who like to tinker with electronics and computers, robots are a great hobby to start on. Engineers who have an idea of the design process can create their own robots according to the functions, specifications and aesthetic they like. For others looking to be masters of their own drones, hobby shops often sell robot kits complete with parts.

If you want to start in this hobby, there are typically two types of robots: stationary and mobile. Stationary robots are, as the name implies, do not move. Usually, they come in the form of robotic arm utilising servo motors to grab, grip and drop objects as one wishes. This is usually the best project for starters, and progress into more complex designs such as problem-solving robots that use colour recognition to match objects with each other. For mobile ones, they can run on wheels, legs, or even propellers (aerial or aquatic)!

You will need a basic background in electronics and computers if you would like to design and build your robots from scratch. Do not forget a kit with the necessary tools and electrical accessories. Simply connecting the circuits alone can be tricky, all the way into wrapping loose cabling with heat shrinks and end caps to prevent shorting and other potential trouble (especially if the robot will be going amphibious). Engineeringsupplies.com.au says heat shrink end caps and other high-quality electrical items can be bought from electrical online stores.

Learn more about electronics and programming, experiment and design, and you will soon be a master of robotic puppets.

About the Author

James Maxwell, a Media Buyer at a media buying agency in New York. He was a former media ethics professor at a university in Los Angeles.