Author's Second Note: FUND MY RESEARCH! If you like what you see or want to help me out, send me an email!
My story begins at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. As a senior there, I'm "required" to do a research project over the course of the 2013–14 school year (it's nearing the end of the year at the time of this writing). To me, though, the project is hardly something I think of as a "requirement"—it's a chance to do what I love doing most and use the time and resources at school to do it. That research, in short, is what I've been up to for the past year or so.
What, then, have I been researching all this time? The problem of cost-effective methods of robotic mobility: how can I make robots that are mobile enough to be used in our homes and the outdoors alike, but that are also simple and relatively cheap to design, produce, and develop? I reasoned that creating a robotic utility platform with those goals would not only enable a lot of automation applications for the average consumer, but also expand the field of robotics beyond that which has been dominated by wheeled robots for so long. In short, I believe that there can and should be a middle ground between the simplicity of the wheeled platforms that we're all so used to and the cost and complexity of the latest humanoid robots that are competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, and I want to fill up that middle ground with something we can all benefit from and be a part of. To do that, I decided to create a 3D printed, multipurpose mobile robotics platform (I'm still working on a clever name for it).
Fast forward one year and lots of R&D and CAD later, I finally had something concrete: a complete working prototype of my robot's drivetrain!
The drivetrain I created features four treads with two degrees of freedom each. Everything is driven independently by VEX DC motors and powered by two VEX NiMH batteries in parallel. To control everything, there is an Arduino Leonardo onboard which is connected to my Handuino remote control via XBEE radio (allowing me to see what the robot is up to and provide my input in return).
As of May 9th, the drivetrain is complete in terms of its 3D-printed components, but the electronics and programming are still receiving improvements (this is a process that can run indefinitely). While the "hardware" portion is arguably the most important part of the robot given its goals of being truly mobile, having proper electronics and code to control everything is critical to the hardware's success. In short, work is ongoing, but enough to win 2nd place at our school's science fair (Electrical and Mechanical Engineering category)!
So that's my story ...so far. The future, however, is bright. Very bright. While I'm still improving the code to make the existing hardware work better, I have already started the designs and CAD models for Version 2.0 and beyond, which I am planning to work on this summer and during my time at Carnegie Mellon University. To do that, though, I need funding and support. Since I'll be graduating this June, most of my resources (parts, equipment, existing prototypes) will stay with the school for future students to work on and use. To continue my work through the summer and beyond, I will need to—at least from a financial standpoint—start from scratch (I have a second article breaking down my needs part by part).
If you would like to support my work, please email me and read about sponsorship opportunities and the benefits of getting involved in my second article! Please stay tuned for more!
Author's Note: I realize there's a lot going on here, so I've broken up my recent work into several articles. Feel free to email me if there is anything I can or should clear up!