Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

The Rules for Roboticists

Remember The Rules, that icky book written by two women who no man would want to date regardless of what relationship principles they were or were not applying? Well, we decided to dream up some rules of our own. No, they're not things like "Never call a robot after the final assembly. Make it call you." Or, "The way to a robot's stomach is through its rear access panel." These "rules" represent the collective working wisdom of builders who've been bolting together bots for decades. The cyberneticist Gregory Bateson used to say, "Always tie your ideas with slipknots." So these are not hard and fast rules, more like rules of thumb. Just a few things to consider as you build bots.

  1. A roboticist is a generalist, a systems thinker. One of the things that attracts a lot of people to robotics is that it involves the orchestration of so many different disciplines. There are, obviously, specialists in the field—those who work only on AI control architectures or robotic locomotion, or whatever—but even they must keep the entire machine in mind. Most people who work in the field, and certainly all amateur builders, have to have at least basic skills in numerous disciplines. As you get more into robotics, you'll also find yourself spending a lot of time looking at humans and animals trying to figure out how they work. Oddly, trying to construct machine "creatures" gives one an even greater appreciation for the heavenly designs of nature, which brings us to...

NOTE

Speaking of paranoia, legend has it that the term bug (as in computer bug) was coined when actual bugs took up residence inside of first-generation room-sized computers and began short-circuiting their electronics. Another origin story claims that bugs used to nest in the plugholes of early telephone switchboards. In truth, the term dates back at least to the late 1800s and was even used by Edison during the development of the phonograph. The term was simply used to mean some imaginary critter (like a Gremlin) that had snuck into the machine works and was causing all of the trouble.

  1. A roboticist is a "deconstructionist." As a robot builder, you'll find yourself obsessively looking at the natural and built worlds and going: "Ah-ha! So that's how it's done." Nothing will be safe as you take apart toys and machines that don't work anymore (and some that still do), and find yourself playing with your food in a manner unsettling to others ("Cool, there's the ligament attachments!"). But, for the love of all that's civilized, leave the family pets alone!

NOTE

This is completely unrelated to robots, but it neatly illustrates our fourth rule. Years ago, a female friend of mine, a brilliant fashion designer, entered a beginner's fabric weaving contest. She rented a small loom, learned how to weave, and wove a seersucker blouse. Because she was new to weaving, she didn't know that you couldn't hand weave seersucker (which is comprised of alternating puckered and smooth stripes). She was having a devil of a time doing it, but she thought it was just because she was new to weaving. The judges were stunned. Needless to say, she won the contest, and the grand prize, a gorgeous room-sized Swedish loom.

  1. A roboticist knows how to K.I.S.S. it. Actually not every robot builder knows this, but they should. K.I.S.S. stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid and is a maxim recited (but frequently unheeded) in many design disciplines. Heed it in your own robot building. Take time to plan your projects. Don't just throw technology at a problem 'cause you can. Use prototyping technologies such as LEGO MINDSTORMS (see Chapter 6) and breadboarding (see Chapter 7, "Project 1: Coat Hanger Walker") to test out designs. Then try and figure out what you might not need and toss it. The simpler and more elegant your designs, the more likely your robot is to be stable and robust.

  2. A roboticist must learn to think "outside the bot." Innovation comes from thinking differently, heading down the road less traveled. Don't be afraid to take chances, to go in radical directions. Apply Brooks's Research Heuristic (see previous). Don't listen when people tell you that you can't do something. Ignore critics.

  3. A roboticist is as much an artist as a scientist. Find someone who's done anything cutting-edge in science and technology, and chances are, he or she has a bit of an artist's soul. Independent engineer and self-proclaimed "high-tech nomad" Steven Roberts is often quoted as saying, "Art without engineering is dreaming. Engineering without art is calculating." A roboticist worth his or her soldering iron knows this to be true.

  4. A roboticist must be methodical and patient (like any scientist). The pressure that many robot developers are under to deliver creations that live up to our sci-fi fantasies leads too many to try too much, too soon. Scientific development is measured by nature. Don't be afraid to get one thing right rather than a bunch of things "sorta okay." (Notice how we just contradicted rule number 4. What can we say? Rules are meant to be broken.)

TIP

You can find out more about Steve Roberts's amazing exploits at his site, Nomadic Research Labs (http://www.microship.com). He's not a robot builder, but his marvelous work in building high-tech bicycles, micro-sailing vessels, and other human-powered, Internet-connected vehicles will appeal to everyone who loves technical virtuosity and cool gadgets.

  1. A roboticist knows that neatness counts. After you've built a few robots, you'll quickly realize that the mechanics and (especially) the electronics can quickly become complicated. There are usually wires sprouting everywhere, and trying to fit all of the parts within your robot shell, or on your robot platform (see Chapter 4, "Robot Anatomy Class"), can become quite a challenge. You'll learn that keeping everything neat and tidy will make a huge difference in the end. Use quick connectors when you can (for plugging and unplugging wires), use cable ties to bundle related wires together, and carefully plan (or revise) your design to maximize order and quick deconstruction/reconstruction of subsystems for troubleshooting.

  2. A roboticist must be a master of many trades. As stated in rule number 1, a roboticist must be able to look at the big picture and know at least a little about a lot. He or she must have a working knowledge of materials sciences, structural and mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer sciences. We know that all sounds intimidating to an absolute beginner, but knowing something about all of these areas of technology can actually be fun and exciting. And don't let the big words trip you. In plain English, these big words boil down to: building stuff (and knowing the right stuff to use), doing basic electronics, and knowing the ins and outs of microcontrollers and their software.

    We'll cover all of this in the book, so by the time you're finished, you'll be able to casually spout sentences such as, "I'm not sure if that MCU has enough I/O to drive the sensors and servos we'll use, and we'll definitely need to hack the servo control circuits." (Come back to this sentence once you've finished the book and the projects, and you'll marvel at how alien it initially sounded and how downright clear, dare we say "warm and fuzzy," it will have become to you.)

  3. A roboticist should know his or her tools, materials, and processes. You can have all the "book learnin'" in the world, but if you don't have a good working knowledge of robot building tools, building materials, and construction techniques, you're not going to be seeing robots scooting around your den anytime soon. You'll gain basic experience in tool wielding and project building by the time you've completed this book and you'll gain even more experience through additional projects and kits covered here as well. The more you tinker, the more mad skills you'll build, which leads us to...

  4. A roboticist knows that you need to build early and build often. Modern robot building technologies such as LEGO MINDSTORMS, Fischertechniks, reprogrammable microcontrollers, prototyping boards, and other similar innovations (not to mention computer designing and simulating software) allow robot builders a tremendous amount of freedom to experiment. Think of pre-PC writing technology (pens and paper, typewriters) versus using a word processor (complete with spell- and grammar-checking, a built-in dictionary, Thesaurus, and so forth) and that gives you some idea of today's robot tools versus those of a decade ago. Now you can have an idea for a drive system, a sensory array, whatever, and have it built and tested within a few hours. If it doesn't work, you can quickly disassemble and assemble something else. From this rapid prototyping can come truly innovative robot designs.

  5. A roboticist should know when to come back later. When you're building anything, especially something as complicated as a robot, the build can sometimes turn ugly (see "The Sugarman Caution" earlier in this chapter). If you try to force a solution, you'll often dig yourself into an even deeper hole. "Put the soldering iron down and step away from the robot!" You'll be amazed at what an hour away, vegging in front of the TV, rolling around on the floor with the housecat, or sleeping on your problem overnight will do (and no, not literally, wiseguy!). It almost never fails. And here's a corollary: The extent to which you don't want to drop what you're doing and take a break ("I know I can fix this, darn it!"), is inversely proportional to the extent to which you need one.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020