Autonomous Robotics

I know this title makes it look technical, but I won’t bore you much.
A few days before my vacations ended, one of my schoolmates, Edison, called me up.
He’d been looking up a robotics competition to be held in a nearby college’s technical fest. He asked me if I could develop logic for the problem statement.
The problem was something like this :

Make a line-follower robot to pick up wood blocks,
and drop them at holes along the way.

As I’ve already written, I went on a South India trip during winter vacation, and came back in January of 2014.
By then, the organizers had put up a possible logic, and Edison already made the program code out of it.
We soon met up, to try build the actual robot !!

One of the many parts of it

One of the many parts of it

Edison, besides almost finishing up the program code, had also got himself an Arduino (Microprocessor), and lots of LEDs, LDRs, resistors, capacitors, ICs and what not !!
He told me to design the robot, and to get another person for the team.
I looked up some friends, but everybody said that autonomous robotics was too tough and a waste of time. This one guy who was Hank’s friend, was somewhat experienced in the field, and showed interest at first, but later did not receive our call repeatedly. So we decided to proceed on our own, just Edison and me.
I designed a picking up mechanism, since there were two block sizes and two hole sizes.
Edison got a robotics kit from some guy, with the motors and wheels.

Midway through it..

Midway through it..

So it was building time!!! We visited a carpenter’s shop for some wood. Edison had a saw.
I had it all planned and marked the points to be drilled. But our drilling guy didn’t pay any heed to accuracy !! All the holes were offset from the markings !!
We decided to make the robot body of cardboard instead. We did the drilling ourselves with a hand-drill.
Now it was the turn for the picking mechanism. It was all cool, and I simplified it into a few tin sheet cut outs. Then, we met the blacksmiths, who could’ve made them for us.

The Final Grabbing Mechanism

The Final Grabbing Mechanism

I showed them the sketches, made them understand its shape and dimensions. After the grueling task, we were about head back, when Edison said that we should ask them the cost. We went back and asked them. They were about to charge Rs 500 (~US$ 8) for that simple half-an-hour thing !! We immediately cancelled the order.
So we needed a different grabbing mechanism.
At that time, the organizers made certain changes in the problem. Now there was only one block and hole size. So we could use a much simpler mechanism, that we built ourselves from cardboard !!
All this while, we were doing our robotics thing in Edison’s house, which was about 10 kms from my college. As a result, I stayed at their home a few nights, and many afternoons, working on the robot. And I must mention that Edison’s mom was a great cook !!

Sensors..

Sensors.. sensors.. sensors.. made us go crazy !!

Since it was a line-follower robot, it had to have sensors, a combination of a LED and a LDR, wrapped by a black tape to avoid outside light. The tricky part was calibrating them. With minor height changes, the values would change drastically. As first timers, we learnt these by experiment.
The next problem was the power source. At Edison’s home, we powered the Arduino from his computer’s USB. We’d have needed an adapter to convert the AC power supply to DC. Also, it there was some fluctuation, the Arduino board would be reset !!

Finally..

Finally..

The third problem was that the Arduino software won’t work in my laptop. It worked in Edison’s home computer with a lot of difficulty, but we’d have to take the robot to a different college to participate. The working software was indispensable.
As the date for the competition neared, we were going behind schedule, and problems slowly began mounting up. But with our hopes high, we prepared the Demand Drafts needed for the participation.
The first round of the competition was scheduled on Friday, 31st January, 2014. By Wednesday, it was clear that we could never finish up on time.
And thus ended our little saga of Autonomous Robotics.

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