After visiting the JPL Open House a few weekends ago, Joe has been even more fascinated with robots that he already was. We used to watch BattleBots all the time and at the open house they had high school teams from the FIRST program (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) giving a demonstration of their large, competition bots. Along with all the Mars Rovers and interplanetary spacecraft, Joe was in technology heaven.
After much prodding by Joe, I have been doing extensive research on the Internet and came across a group of robots using BEAM Technology. BEAM is an acronym of Biology - Electronics - Aesthetics - Mechanics. Using found or purchased parts, you can put together some interesting robots that exhibit some naturalistic behaviors. Many of the robots are also solar powered.
I am just starting on my journey into electronics so things are moving a bit slowly. Last night I happened across a tutorial on how to build a small beetle-like robot that operated on battery power. Since this bot required no electronic circuits, I figured this might be a good place to start. I actually ended up building the robot twice as it seemed to want to run in reverse. Oh well, it also had some structural issues keeping the motor attached to the body. Finally, just a while ago, I got it working fairly well. I ran it for a few minutes and then put it away so that I could show Joe in the morning. My layout could be a bit neater, but overall the bot does what it should. The paper clip antennae on the front actually give a rudimentary ability to move away from obstacles. If one antenna is depressed, it shuts off the motor on the opposite side so the bot will attempt to move away from the obstruction.
I have already gathered the parts for more involved BEAM projects including a Photovore, a bot that seeks on the brightest light it can find. (a good trait for a solar-powered robot) There are also bots using vibrating pager motors that bounce around on your desktop, solarollers that us a solar engine to power them on their way through bursts of energy and a host of others.
You can find out more about BEAM robots by visiting some of these links:
Solarbotics - Robot kits, parts and information
Tons of BEAM links
BeamBoticist - Great examples of BEAM bots
Ben Hitchcock's Robot Farm
These are just a few of the links I found in my web travels. This Google Search will give you even more.
I will post of links to the books I have been using as soon as I can.