My First Robot: A Dad’s Journey In Robotics For His Daughter

My first robot

[Joel Miller] wants to get his daughters into electronics early (his oldest is only 3), so he’s decided to foray into the wonderful world of robotics as a fun way to get them interested. As bonus to us and all other would-be robotics enthusiasts out there, he’s keeping track of the project on his blog!

He started by sketching out some ideas about what he wanted his robot to be capable of — it should be able to move around, be remote controlled, have sensors for experiments, and even have some personality — expression capable eyes maybe? Oh and it should be able to automatically charge itself, and have tank treads!

It’s been a few weeks since he started scheming up ideas… and he already has a prototype complete! Talk about a productive father! He decided to try 3D printing a continuous tank tread using ABS, but unfortunately it was a bit too stiff, so he’s opted to use a tried and true Lego system instead — although maybe he should try printing in two materials, like we just saw with the FlexyDualie extruder!

The chassis of the robot is also 3D printed, with threaded brass inserts since he knows it’s going to be taken apart and put back together many times. Two RC servos are installed as the drive motors, and a piece of polycarbonate sits on top as an easy to modify electronics housing platform. The project is extremely well documented and definitely worth the read if you have time — just take a look at his original sketches!


15 thoughts on “My First Robot: A Dad’s Journey In Robotics For His Daughter

    1. I remember the Radio Shack catalogs when I was a kid! (Tandy here in the UK!) And they were the same! Every description ended with an exclamation! Even dull stuff like batteries!

  1. I’m guessing the plan is a cover over the Pi with a whole bunch of predrilled holes for mounting sensors/manipulators? Could make it work with plastic push-pins to avoid the need for tapping each hole.

  2. RPi, great as it is, is not well suited for realtime applications like running a robot. C, python, etc, great as they are, are not ideal for running real time on a rig with minimal resources.

    I would suggest the Parallax Propeller chip for the realtime stuff, and propforth for writing the drivers, since it is designed for this purpose, and quite fun. Propforth can easily connect to the RPi using simple serial. You get the best of both worlds.

  3. Compiled C is pretty efficient….
    What is not so good is having a full blown NON RT kernel running side by side with your time critical code, that said, a picaxe can manage to control a robot and not burst in flames, so if its a bit slower, who cares?

  4. Both the RasPi and the sensors strike me as overkill for a kid this age. You should think more along the lines of the LOGO teaching language only with a real “turtle.” Don’t think advanced behaviors, think “left right left.” Prof_Braino has a point that something like the Propeller is probably a better fit (not that the kid will use the multicore capability but you can use it to improve performance while implementing a simple language for the kid to use.) PropForth is neat but both C and the Propeller’s native Spin are better supported by Parallax. None of those are appropriate languages for a three or four year old to be trying to learn. You use them to implement something like LOGO. As the kid matures maybe you add the sensors and extend it, until in a few years the kid is programming in the super-LOGO interpreter language.

    While young kids learn at a furious rate they also get frustrated. Are you going to try teaching someone that age about microseconds, pulses, and acceleration? Save that for when they’re ten or twelve at least.

    1. M’eh. I learned functional introductory literacy in French, English and Basic (On my Apple II) by the second grade. I wasn’t Shakespeare or Torvalds (nor am I now!) but if you don’t challenge your kids with something one might reasonably expect to be beyond them you miss my favorite moment of being a parent: a kid shouting “Wait, I get it!” Some things just take more support to get there.

      My 6-year-old would look at LOGO and be bored in minutes. Give him Scratch to play around with and he makes some seriously off-the-wall stuff. We’re hardly a family of geniuses, just deep-seated curiosity.

    2. Thanks localroger, good point. I intend to use the Primo-style functionality (simple left-right-forward programming to solve a maze, etc.) at first and maybe save the rest for her to grow into. Mainly I’d like for her to get familiar with putting things together and seeing a vision through to a working ‘thing’. Already she’s surprisingly capable with an allen wrench, more so than a lot of adults I know.
      Frankly I’ve always wanted to get into a project like this, so a lot of it is for me (for now).

      Sparkmike- That’s very encouraging! I definitely want to be ready with more when she gets bored with the basics.

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