IAN LANG ELECTRONICS

Robots- Introduction

It used to be when I was a child that first steps into electronics were taken by building simple radio sets and then moving on to more complicated radio sets. Then you'd discover the electric motor and motorise your toys, then you'd discover other bits and completely transform your Action Man tanks/jeeps/ armoured cars or whatever into something loud and noisy that would annoy your parents no end. When you got on to train sets you'd have a bonanza electrifying everything until something blew up and your Meccano projects would be frankly a danger to everybody who came near them. Then you'd get better at handling electronics and you'd make stuff that would amaze your mother and father and make them wonder if they'd created some sort of mini James Bond villain who would one day attempt to dominate the Earth whilst stroking a white cat.
These days kids go straight to robots. Such is progress, as you are far more likely to dominate the Earth and all that is in it with an army of mechanoids than you are with your Hornby 00 model of the Flying Scotsman whether or not you've made it radio-controlled and given it steam-engine sounds. Electronics may change. Kids don't.

The point of that unfocussed rambling above, in case you were wondering, is that nowadays there is a great interest in making mechanoids that do something useful and/or entertaining. Sadly the current state of robotics (or cybernetics to give it its posh name) is such that nothing like the Terminator robot exists and nor is it likely to do before you and I are merely somebody's distant ancestors (unless the Ministry of Defence knows something we don't) simply because you and I and even the annoying fly buzzing about on the lightshade as I write this have far more computing power available to us than the machine you are reading this on. Really. I don't care if you have spent two thousand-jillion pounds on the machine that you are looking at and it occupies the space the size of Amazon's biggest warehouse. That lump of organic matter that sits in your head can do in milliseconds what your whizz-bang machine would take years to process if it doesn't topple over and give you an error message first. The computer however can do maths a lot faster than you can, even if you are the Professor of Doing Really Hard Maths Very Quickly at the University of Cleverton. God alone knows what would have happened if Maxwell, Einstein et al had got their hands on my laptop and started doing some spreadsheets.

So, after that extra bit of philosophical meandering on my part, let's get back on topic. What's needed to make a robot? Here's a diagram of a basic robot topology: