Types of Robots
There are a number of types of robotics that ATS members have some knowledge about. Although many of these represent a "historical" perspective, each of these types of robots have different challenges as well as things to teach.

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Teleoperated/Tethered Robots
Teleoperated robots, tethered or not, are typically machines that move in a predefined pattern to perform a given task. Automobile assembly robots fit into this category. These machines are typically quite large, require line voltages, compressed air, or hydraulic pumps to sustain motion, and can be quite strong. Many have more than one micro processor working together to help the process along.

As these robots are typically never outside of the sight of their operators, the operators themselves become part of the robot, lending the most flexible computing engine known to help make the robot do what it is supposed to, namely the human mind.

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Radio Controlled Robots
Radio controlled robots, as are typically seen as "props" on TV (see R2D2, Runaway, Battle Bots and the like), are useful. The capability of available, off the shelf radio control units, such as those from HiTec, allow a surprising number of motions to occur for relatively little money.

These robots, also, gain the use of that most flexible computing engine known (the human mind), and are typically never outside of the sight of their operators. This allows the operators themselves become part of the robot.

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Autonomous Robots
Fully Autonomous Robots are a rare breed. These machines are typically science fiction at this point, more than science fact. However, there have been a number of self controlled machines that would go in this category. The Viking Landers on Mars, as well as the follow on Mars Pathfinder robots where machines that could do quite a bit for themselves, in regards to their landing, operation, etc.

Given sufficiently narrowed operation criteria, even the micromice and the various BEAM robotics projects can be said to be autonomous. Each of these machines perform a given task without further human intervention.

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Hobbist Robotics
The things that ATS members can do with rather simple robots is actually quite stunning. There are such things as:

  • Line Following (robots that follow a closed loop, drawn on the floor/paper)
  • Sumo Fighting (robots that seek out other robots and attempt to push them out of a ring)
  • BEAM Robots (solar powered robots that mimmic simple behaviors of things like bugs...without microprocessors)
  • Maze Solving Robots (think of robotic mice in search of electronic cheese)

But even these rather simple robots can teach very complex things.

  • Wheel odometry (and why dead reconning errors make this impractical)
  • Feedback loops (and dealing with the hysteresis that is inherrantly a part of such systems)
  • Power Management (batteries do die)
  • Engineering (too many principles to even BEGIN to discuss)
  • Computer Programming/Building Skills (in any of several different languages)
  • Mathematics (typically tied to either programming or engineering)

In short, if you are going to give a child something that will help them learn, there are few things better than a robotics kit.