At apegroup we believe that prototyping is a good way to learn. Personally, I believe all designers should prototype robots. Here are my four reasons why.
1. You make people happy (including yourself)
I took some time at work to build a simple Arduino robot using an ultrasonic sound sensor and two servo motors. Letting it roll around at the office instantly put a smile on my colleagues faces. A physical thing that in some tiny way resembles a living creature has a big effect on people. The only way to interact with this robot was to put something in front of it, like your hand or your foot, to make it stop and turn around. This was enough to create some sort of social engagement, making it likeable. No matter how simple a robot you make, there is still a good chance it will make people around you happy. More importantly, creating things makes you happy. If you’re lucky, your enthusiasm might give birth to new robot builders to team up with.
2. Because you can
Thanks to companies like Arduino and Adafruit, anyone can build robots nowadays. These companies provide perfect start kits with sensors, motors and microcontrollers prepared on boards. Some kits also include instructional books that describe the basics of mechatronics and sample experiments to get you started. You don’t need a Master in engineering to build your first robot. All you need is a starter pack of circuits, a computer, and a dose of curiosity.
3. It is a fun way to practice coding
Do designers need to know how to code? Probably not, but it’s good to have some knowledge about the technology behind the things you design for. The best part of learning to code is when your work turns into something tangible.The most rewarding is something that moves, blinks or makes sounds. What could be more fun than coding your own robot? For a beginner, a spinning wheel moving your robot forward might be challenging enough. For more experienced developers, time and imagination are the only limits of what you can make your robot do. Sometimes, it’s a relief to create things that don’t need to be useful and solve a problem. Creating things that you enjoy is a great way to learn.
4. Robot interaction is the future
It’s just a matter of time until we’re all asked to work with robot interactions. Social robots will surely soon accompany us in our homes, like Jibo, the family’s personal assistant, and robots are being developed in all kinds of fields. There are robots that teach kids how to code, like Dash & Dot and other educational robots like Tega — a robotic friend for preschoolers with a mechanical body and an Android phone for face. An interesting industrial robot is YuMi®, developed to collaborate with humans rather than work in isolation. Then, of course, we have the drones, the self steering robot cars, space robots and the ones used for medical or therapeutic purpose — just to mention a few. To build your own simple robots is a good way to explore different kind of models for physical interactions and keep up with what’s happening in the field.
How to build your first robot
Buy a kit. I recommend Genuino starter kit from Arduino.
Do some easy hacks to warm up. Make a led blink, add a button, make a motor spin. Read the book that’s included in the kit. Arduino provides a programming software with built-in code examples to get you going. Download it to your computer and test it out.
Think about what kind of robot you want to build. Do you want it to move? What sensors should it use? Can you use the components in the kit or do you need to buy more? Use google for inspiration. Look at other people’s hacks on Instructables.
Learn how to control the components, piece by piece. Should your robot move forward using motors? Add one motor to your breadboard and learn how to control it in code. Then add a sensor that the robot will react on and learn how to control that.
You want your robot to be autonomous, which means that it should be able to sense its environment and respond without any human input. What algorithm will it use? Remember this is your first robot. Keep it simple, you can make it smarter further on!
Build the body using things you have around. Foamboard is cheap and easy to cut and glue.
Try your robot and tweak it. Have fun!
I work at Apegroup, a digital agency in Stockholm, Sweden, where I help companies create beautiful digital experiences. I also love robots. Want to know more about how we work with product design? See our website.
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