American Industrial Magic Autonomous Vehicle Racing

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Darpa Grand Challange
Spawar Systems Center San Diego
Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International


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The Robot Builder's Bonanza

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The field of robotics is a large and daunting field to start in, especially for the uninitiated. Tying together fields of mechanics, electronics as well as programming makes it rather unaccessible unless you have the right academic background. Until now.

I must say that The Robot Builder's Bonanza is one of the best "how to" books I've read in a while. Despite my background being grounded firmly in programming, I know feel much more confident to tackle more "hands-on" robots.

The book starts off with the basics - what to get and where (unfortunately, but obviously, limited to the U.S.). The book then goes on to explain the various electronics components and what they do, before looking at different building materials (metal, wood and plastics). The sheer depth that McComb goes to is very impressive, as well as laying down little tips for the reader to pick up. For example, he discusses how he found blunting a wood drill bit was best for drilling plastic since it had less tendency to split the plastic upon exiting.

Soon after that, some of the newer chapters (to the 2nd edition) start discussing LEGO Mindstorms, hacking the RCX, as well as covering programming fundamentals. After McComb has introduced the reader to LEGO, he proceeds to explain power sources and motors/servos.

The progression of the "learning" chapters was very solid - any reader religiously following the book would that each chapter followed logically from the next, building upon previous chapters. Readers using the book more like a reference would find each chapter packed full of enough information, and the 'See Also' sections at the end of each chapter very valuable for further reading.

Next came all the interesting stuff - the projects. The projects include a simple RoverBot that basically builds a sturdy metal chassis and wheels to mount a more complex robot project on. There is a heavy six-legged walker and some gripper arm ideas. All the ideas are well laid out and explained, albeit sometimes with rather amateurish diagrams.

Next came further explanations of programming and microcontrollers like the Basic STAMP, BasicX and OOPic. McComb also introduces further smaller projects for you to look at - for example, the wiring and programming required to hook a PC joystick up to a BasicX microcontroller.

The final section looks at sensors and explains everything from gravity/tilt/acceleration sensors to to far-object detection using lasers, even smoke detection by hacking a smoke detector! The final chapter wraps up the book wonderfully by adding rather random but very useful tidbits and tips for the budding roboticist. A five-part appendix and an extensive index augment the book excellently as a reference manual.

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