If you've already started tinkering with Arduino and Open Hardware, sooner or later you'll want to test your abilities by creating a personal, moving robot. Have a look at YouTube: there's plenty of short videos with a mini-robot wandering in a living room or a kitchen, scaring cats while avoiding - if its creator has enough skill in sensor programming - all the little barriers and pitfalls of the average house.

For lovers of open hardware, and in particular of Arduino, the "robot challenge" has always been a big one: creating a moving robot from scratch is difficult, not so much because of programming the board itself but because in a moving robot you have to handle motors and movement. Simply understanding the best kind of motor and wheels for your project is not trivial.

Arduino Robot kit - Credit photo: Engadget

Luckily, Arduino staff has now simplified our lives by designing the new Arduino Robot. It's defined as "the first official Arduino on wheels," since thousands of Arduino boards already rolled un-officially for, we guess, hundreds of miles in Arduino-lovers' labs and homes. And soccer mini-fields too: Arduino Robot comes from a collaboration between Arduino and Complubot, a Spanish robotic project by a junior school that regularly competes in (and often wins) RoboCupJunior, the world soccer championship for little robots on wheels. These robots play in teams of two and must have a good on-board intelligence, because they can communicate only between themselves, rather than with a human "team manager."

The Control Board, with its LCD display and control buttons - Credit photo: Arduino website

Arduino Robot is based on two boards, both using an ATmega32u4 microcontroller. The Motor Board controls two motors (one for each wheel), five pre-installed IR sensors and four input pins for more sensors. The Control Board is the one you can write Arduino sketches for (its environment is very similar to Arduino Leonardo, a board based on the same ATmega32u4 microcontroller) and has its own bunch of sensor inputs: eight analog and six digital pins. On the Control Board there are also a little LCD color display, a digital compass, a potentiometer and five buttons.

The Motor Board, with five IR sensors and, of course, two wheels - Credit photo: Arduino website

Actually, an experienced programmer can write sketches also for the Motor Board, but Arduino documentation explains that it's best to become familiar with Control Board programming before embarking on the Motor Board. The Motor Board default firmware is invoked by the Control Board through the new Robot library. In this way, a sketch can define robot movements using just four very simple commands: start motors at x and y speeds (one for each wheel), stop motors, rotate x degrees right or left, point to y degrees absolute. Programming the Motor Board means changing its default firmware, usually to add new automatic (i.e. with no Control Board supervision) movement procedures or new commands to be invoked by the Control Board.

What can you do with Arduino Robot? As usual with Open Hardware, there are no limits to your imagination and creativity. The official software comes with some Robot sketches but they are just an example of what this new Arduino platform can do. If you have always wanted to learn a bit of robotics, or simply to play with your cats in a new way, Arduino Robot opens a world of new possibilities. And of fun that, as they say, it's just a click away here on MakeTank.

Cover photo credit: Arduino website


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