Q. I am a beginner. How can I build a working robot out of things found around the house?

A. Well. That all depends on three factors.

1. How much of a beginner are you?

If you know next-to-nothing about mechanical engineering, electronics, soldering, wiring, programming, or any of the other skills needed to build a robot, then you may want to start by visiting your nearest library and finding yourself a copy of something like Robot Building for Beginners, Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots, or 123 Robotics Experiments for the Evil Genius. All these books will talk you through the construction of a simple robot, although quite a bit of shopping may be involved, depending on…

2. What sorts of things can be found around your house?

You can build robots from just about anything, depending on what you expect them to do. Your imagination’s the limit. Well, the laws of physics are really the limit. But you don’t need to use stainless steel or brushed aluminum if you can’t find any. You can make perfectly nice robots from wood, various kinds of plastic, stiff wire, old lunchboxes, even papier-mâché. Motorized toys in particular often make good bases for robots. Of course, it also depends on…

3. What’s your definition of a robot?

Everybody has a favorite definition of robot, be it worker, mechanical man, programmable mobile machine, electronic gladiator, humanoid automaton, or kinetic sculpture. Sirius Cybernetics even defines a robot as "your plastic pal that’s fun to be with." Fun being in the eye of the beholder, that definition could even encompass a doll or action figure. You probably envision something that moves on its own, such as this draw bot. I consider it to be more of a kinetic sculpture than a true robot. However, it can quickly be made from common household items– if you can steal a motor from something that won’t be missed, such as an old toy car.

If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, are comfortable with a soldering iron, and have access to a good supply of spare parts– from a broken cassette player, say– you might be interested in building a BEAM robot, such as a solaroller. The philosophy of BEAM– Biology, Electronics, Aesthertics and Mechanics– is to build simple robots from simple components that exhbit complex behaviours. Rather than trying unsuccessfully to build artificial humans– or even artificial chipmunks– BEAM builders successfully produce what might be thought of as artificial plankton.

Happy roboting!
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