Robotics & Embedded programming

Hi Guys,

I'm starting up a new hobby for myself. I'd like to get into some simple robotics.

I would like to build a computer operated toy car.
Initially it will be a platform with a few electric motors for propulsion and steering. It also will contain some sort of IC board with embedded code to drive it all.

Now I need to get some ideas as to where do I start looking for the different IC / chip components and how to get it all to work.

I have many years of C/C++. I have done some VERY simple embedded programming on ATMs. I know what an EPROM is (roughly). I'm not a total idiot :)

Any directions on where to look would be gretely appreciated.

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If its a hobby, you might start with this:

The C compiler isn't in top shape, but its usable.
Pete2003Author Commented:
That looks quite fun, however I'm looking for something eve lower level. I think I nned to find somewhere that sells basic IC boards where you can program diffrent signal outputs.

I remember having a kit that did the knight rider flashing lights from your parallel port. I would like to go one further and have that on a small IC with a programmable chip
Well, this is very low level (if you use the compiler provided by the community instead of the default click&go GUI). The only difference is that its still lego, so the assembling is very fast and easy. The programming remains as low level as it can be.
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Some ICs you may want to look in are Microchip's PIC microcontrollers, Atmel's Avr  microcontrollers, or Parallax's Basic Stamp. You will also need a programmer for the controller; Microchip and AVR both have many programmers for their devices but two common ones are  PicKit2 for Microchip controllers and AVRISP MKII for AVR controllers. Parallax has the BASIC stamp board.

Next you will need a compiler. Microchip has a free C compiler for the 18F series family PICs otherwise you will likely have to buy a compiler or deal with code size limitations. AVR controllers have a free C compiler called AVRGcc, which will work on all Atmel controllers. Microchip and Atmel also have free Assembly compilers. Parallax has a free BASIC compiler for their stamps.

For learning on how to getting it to work you will need the datasheets for the devices you will be working with. You will also want to look for basic projects and tutorials on the web. The good thing is all three companies I mentioned have a strong community that can help you out. AVR has, Microchip has its own forum, and Parallax has their own forum as well.

If you need any more help don't hesitate to ask as I have worked with all three company's products.

Pete2003Author Commented:
thanks for the info guys.

dwb178, which of the three would you recommend for my car project?
I would recommend Microchip followed by Atmel. PICs have a lot of projects that have source code that can be found on the web. The PicKit2 also comes with example code in Assembly to get you started. Of the three companies I have dealt with I have to say Microchip has the best customer support of the three. I don't recommend Parallax as highly because their stamps are slow and are lacking other features such as interrupts that AVR and PICs have.
Pete2003Author Commented:
Ok, I have spent some time on the microchip website looking at the pic32 starter kit and the pickit2.
I see they allow for a simple intro to controlling diodes, turn on / off. This is a good start.

I'm however struggling findoing a plugin to those boards or a board that I could operate either a motor from or if the voltage/amps are a problem then a relay switch that would turn the motors on and off.

Could you point me in the right direction on their website.

Sure. Microchip's site isn't going to have everything you need. Like I stated in my earlier post, you will need to look at various electronic websites and join some electronic groups. One way of running a motor with a PIC is with the use of a H Bridge and using Pulse With Modulation (PWM) to control the speed and direction of the motor.

Here is a good site that gives you a schematic, explains some concepts, and has some code.

You also might want to check out as they have some design tips and tutorials on their site.

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Pete2003Author Commented:
Thanks for the info, got lots of info from the societyof robots website.

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