The netbook bots use a netbook as the robot’s brains. This has significant advantages in ease of programming – all of the language, library, IDE, etc. options that you could normally use are available. In addition, depending on the model, a netbook may be more powerful than a smart phone. Finally, it includes USB ports for additional devices. (Note, we use the term netbook, but with a sufficiently large ‘body’ any laptop computer could be used.)
Netbooks also have a few disadvantages. They are larger than a smart phone, requiring a bigger robotic body and they don’t have some of the built-in features of a smart phone, accelerometers, compass, etc.
Parts – Body and Spinal Cord
Mobility Platforms – The Body
Using a little velcro, it is possible to mount a netbook on just about any mobility platform. The platform just needs to be large enough to support the netbook, and it needs to have motors strong enough to handle the few pounds that it weighs. We have had success with several products in our designs:
- DFRobot 4WD
A wheeled platform designed for small robotics projects. Fairly cheap, but requires more assembly than desired, including some soldering.
- Hobby tank
A remote-controlled tracked platform designed for hobbyists. It is more expensive, but is extremely easy to work with. It is also more robust and provides superior maneuverability.
- Rover 5 Robot Chassis
This is a tracked platform for medium-sized robotic projects, it’s about 10in long. It’s simple to assemble and reasonably priced.
Motor Controllers – The Spinal Cord
The netbook solutions ride on larger platforms than the smart phones. To drive the larger motors on these platforms doesn’t require a lot of power, but it does require enough that some care must be taken in selecting motor controllers that can supply enough power. We have had success with two motor controllers on these platforms.
- Phidgets High Current Motor Controller
A fairly expensive motor controller designed for applications much larger than ours. However, it comes with easy-to-use libraries and supports Phidgets digital sensor devices. Programming is only required at the brains/netbook level using the supplied libraries (available for a large range of programming languages). Note that the low current controller produced by Phidgets did not perform well on these platforms.
- Romeo All-in-one Motor Controller
An Arduino-compatible motor/servo controller, which can be purchased in a package with the DFRobot. There are many options for additional peripherals, including an optional blue-tooth adaptor. Although only slightly more powerful than the low current motor controller from Phidgets, it performs well on our platforms. It does require minimal programming to accept commands from the robot’s brains (the netbook) and use them to control the motors.