Helical, Planetary, Compound – know your gears

From SocietyOfRobots.com

From SocietyOfRobots.com

The past few years have seen an explosion of “getting started in robotics” web sites – especially those helping build small bots.  Naturally, general DIY sites like Instructables have a lot of users sharing their plans but other sites that have been around for a while do too, i.e. Society of Robots.  Today we discuss how to get the right information even when you want to scale-up to something big, strong and fun.

When you’re on the hunt for more robotics information, you might find it helpful to zero in on those that discuss specific topics you are interested in.  I loosely categorise robotics sites into three groupings:

  1. Educational mini robots – think primary/secondary school levels, competitive teams (Lets Make Robots,  Robots.org, VEX)
  2. Industrial robots – part picking/placing, welding, assembly (suggest your link here)
  3. Insane & awesome giant killer robots – the stuff that we all really want to build (Kuratas, Mantis)

It may be obvious which category I’m most interested in (okay, ignore the “killer” part), so where does one go to get started building something big, strong and cool looking?  Good luck with that!  While you might feel like you’re on your own, don’t forget that the smaller scale and more “traditional” robotics sites still have plenty of pertinent info.

It may sound like heresy to say that not much has changed in robotics for a decade, because you hear so much about great advances in robotics the past few years.  

However, in reality, hobbyists and engineers that have lots of cash can get into some really neat stuff, but thrifty students and tinkerers are still stuck making puny bots with a few servos and wheels.  Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of value in that stream of robotics, particularly for education and, err, floor sweeping.

[I’d love to follow up with some of the leading battle bot leaders from 10 years ago to see what they are doing now and whether their interest in robotics waned after they won the RoboCup.  But I digress…]

The staples of historic robotics are still just as important today as they were 20 years ago.  Gears are a good example.  Basic mechanics don’t fade away simply because you have new sensors, better accelerometers or a laser range finder.  You still need to know your gears – and the laws and formulae that govern them – to make (almost) anything move. 

Of course, at some point, you’re going to want to scale-up and when you do you’ll find that the theories all hold true, but finding parts through robotics vendors will be a much greater challenge.  At that point you’ll want to switch domains entirely and start hunting through industrial scrapyards and catalogs for large machinery.

We’ll discuss more on that front in a future post where we help show you how to find parts or how to DIY when those parts are not available.

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