Beginner's Robotic
Go back Mindstormed ! Beginner's Robotic Iomega Buz Beat Box Various Links

Welcome to the Beginner's Robotic home page !

New in this part :

the RCX Expander Project !

Mindstormed pages


Site made by Philippe Jadin. First upload : 07-15-1999

Have a look at my homepage

This page is intended to provide an overview of all the basic robotic stuff for the beginner. With all the links above, you should find the solution to build a simple robot for hobby...

Related work :

Servo motor controller / tester on LPT (printer) ports (French or English ! ***has been translated!***)

Taking basic picture with mindstorm : theoretical approach of the Nipkow disc


I've collected various links to help you to build a robot. I'm a beginner too, so 'structural' mistakes are possible. Please give me feedback about this site, I'd be very pleased. I'm also sorry for the poor English. This site is in very early stage. Only a few links are present, and no technical tips are present. It's quite not yet interesting for the 'connaisseur'. The beginner will still find some useful links.

Don't mind the poor quality, it will evolve quite quickly. (This one made in 2 hours, so...)


So, what is a robot : Mechanics (hardware) and Brain (electronic+software)

1. Mechanics

This part is not well explained. I'll try to upload a good page with a complete robot building how to. (well, when I will actually build my robot ( - : )

1.1 Lego

It's the most used system to build a robot, since it's fast, reliable and easy. Lego released the Lego mindstorm set, which includes both the brain and about 700 pieces to build a robot. So, we have :

Mindstorm : the name of the Lego box,
RCX : the programmable Lego brick (you get one with mindstorm box)
RIS : Robotic Invention System, another name for mindstorm.

Another way to build a robot is to use standard Lego with customised sensors and motors controlled by another brain (see brain)

A very good discussion group is Lego-robotics. Have a look often... obviously. A better approach is to subscribe to newsgroups. There are plenty, which all are lego oriented... more than 17000 msg concerning robotics, the rcx and the handyboard too!


1.2 Fishertechnics / Mecanos

Created in Germany, the Fishertechnics are another solution, quite like the Mecanos. Main disadvantage is the time it takes to build a robot. Main advantage is the solidity.


1.3 Home made robots with other pieces

Not discussed here at the moment, since it's quite complicated to describe an easy to build robot with hard to find pieces...


1.4 Motors

1.4.1 Servo motors

Originally used in RC cars and planes, the servo motors are very useful in robotic. They provide precise 180 degree positioning. Alimentation is 5V, data and power-alimentation are separated wires (ideal for a unbuffered microcontroller output). They are small thought powerful. To control them, you need a special signal :

High level for 1.5 -> 2 Msec every 20 Msec. The length of the signal (1.5 ->2 Msec) is relative to the position you want.

I've build a very simple servo controller/tester (without any electronic!) to use with centronic (printer) port on any win95 PC. Full Delphi source is included. Click here for dedicated page (in French at the moment, English coming soon).

1.4.2 Steeper motors

The stepper motors usually need four wires to be controlled. The sync of the different signal being applied are the key for successful steeper motor control. Although everything can be made with software, it's easier to use a dedicated IC with high current transistors. Schema coming soon. The IC simply need two or three inputs : backward one step, forward one step, and eventually half step...


1.5 Sensors

1.5.1 Lego sensors

They are available in the mindstorm kit : 1 light sensor, 2 switches. You can purchase more as spare parts. Lego also released other sensors : temperature, rotation (16 steps for 1 turn), ... You can connect any other sensor to the mindstorm, as you can build your own one. see 1.5.2.

1.5.2 Home made sensors

Some people have made really good work about home made sensor. You can connect them to any brain, although they are often designed for a specific brain (brain = miniboard, handyboard, or Lego mindstorm... or...)

Some links : : an interesting Ir. sensor specifically designed for the mindstorm (scroll to the end of the page)
Everything about mindstorms sensors inputs : (great page!)



2. The brain

2.1 Lego Mindstorm, RCX

The Lego mindstorm is a complete system which enable you to build a Lego robot, program it with a PC (Ir.-transmission), and make-it do some complex tasks. There are two version : one for kids (mindstorm) (7-77 years ? no, 12 to 120 years, but I think there are more 30+ than 12+. My opinion is that it should be used by 9+ kids with their parents), one for schools (robolab)

The software made by Lego seems quite light, but it's main advantage is simplicity : a 12 year kid should be able to use it. This one uses iconic programmation, with some kind of toy interface.
The robolab software is quite better, and you can purchase it separately (25$)

For the most complete information about Lego mindstorm, visit :

As often with good products, a lot of underground work as been made to develop other programming tools for the mindstorm :

Not Quite C (NQC) Is a sort of C compiler for the mindstorm. (dos)
The rcxcc (RCX command center) is a bridge between NQC (dos) and the mindstorm. It adds windows interface, GUI, color coding of the code, auto uploading and software running on the RCX, errors reporting it's a must have for any serious NQC user.
LegOs is a real C compiler for the mindstorm. Instead of using the Lego firmware, LegOs replace it by it's own. Seems very powerful, but more complicated to use... (linux only ?) - Not tested yet :
There are also some others compiler : pbforth ?


2.2 Micro-controller boards

Those are electronic boards with a microcontroller on it, that you can program in either C-language, assembly, basic, basic, or any other language supported. They are more flexible and powerful than Lego RCX, but more complicated to use as well...

2.2.1 Miniboard

Visit an choose the miniboard project.

This board, created by the Fred G Martin of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) uses a 68HC11 controller, has 4 DC motor outputs, 8 digital I/O's, 8 analogic inputs... and 2 KB memory. It can be programmed in C ( icc11 : a freeware compiler, or a commercial one), in sbasic, in forth...

You can build or buy one (some components are hard to find), and it should (realistically) cost 70$ -100$


2.2.2 Handyboard

Click here to read the FAQ

The big sister of the miniboard, it has some extensions :

-2 lines LCD screen
-32 Kb of ram
-more I/O's
-extensions cards (servo, steeper motor control...) capability
-another c compiler : interactive C, which needs 32 Kb memory
-better support through internet and forums

It is also not as cheap as the miniboard : 200-300$ ...

Click here for a discussion about choosing the mini or handy board.

Nick Taylor wrote me :

" Philippe ... I strongly recommend that you look into the handyboard before you commit to the miniboard. It has drivers for 4 DC motors, 9 digital inputs, 7 analog inputs, two onboard switch inputs, one potentiometer input, IR. input/output, a piezo beeper, and a 2x16 LCD. The expansion board adds 10 additional analog sensor inputs, 4 inputs for active LEGO sensors, 9 digital outputs, 6 servo motor control outputs, a connector for a Polaroid 6500 sonar ranging system. The HandyBoard can be programmed with Interactive C and/or 68HC11 assembler ... and there is a large on line support group ... including input by the father of the Handy Board, Dr. Fred Martin. "


2.2.3 Basic Matchbox : not very known, but very powerful

This one is very interesting, but not very well known. Here are the specs :

-Intel 8051 controller
-small 65*45 mm
-with high level basic/Pascal (a mix of the two) programming tools
-has 27 I/o ports including RS-232 and I2C
-not dedicated to robotic
-semi-cheap : 80 $ max for one (kit is 50$ including PCB and IC. You need to buy the rest.)
-very limited eeprom (1Kb) memory expendable through I2C. Simply add a declaration of the new chip in your sources, for the compiler, add the new chip, and you are ready to go.

I'm not sure about availability in US, since it has been created in Germany. The board is easy to build, its a one sided one. But you need a pre-programmed chip, which can be ordered from France, Belgium, Germany, Holland... briefly, Europe... I'm trying to contact the author, to ask him more info.


What is I2C ?

I2C is a 3 wires serial bus at 100 Kbps, first designed by Phillips mainly for audio controls in their products. Perfect for small memories, AD/DA converters, serial I2C to //, ... in fact, any I2C chip will connect on the matchbox. Uses 3 address lines, making it possible to add unlimited chips with various functions. This *THE* solution for robotic, and I don't understand why nobody is speaking about it.

Here a simple list of advantages :

- 2 wires connections (4 with alim) data / clock
- high speed (100kbs normal, 400 kbs in fast mode)
- 3 jumpers for each chip to adjust it's address. The full address is 10 bytes. The 7 others are internals, and depend of the type of chip. So you can add 16 eeprom, 16 I/o chips, 16 DA/ad converters, 16 rt. clocks... unlimited adds in fact
- a lot of chips are being released, at a very low cost. a memory is 2$, a ad/DA is 4$...

And here is a list of most common i2C chips :

- modem
- voice synthesizer
- LCD driver
- ram
- eeprom
- rt. clock
- // 8 bits I/o extension (you can add 32 * 8 I/O's)
- calendar
- AD/DA converter
- LED numbers driver
- PCM audio interface
- ...

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This site has been created by Philippe Jadin. Contact me for any information
Cette page a été créée par Philippe Jadin. Contactez-moi pour toute information complémentaire