Useful and interesting links to suppliers, other experimenters, and anything else!
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I consider robots.net to be the premier source of news regarding all things robotic. It is updated more or less daily, so subscribing to the news feed is a great idea.
Great mag - only four issues a year at this point, but they will pick up the frequency soon I hope.
A web based catalogue set up by Prof. Dr. Karsten Berns searchable within the listings by set fields.
Another news site, this one covering more toy or hobby specific robot news. Has an active forum.
Jeff's ideas regarding a unified theory of cortical operation are presented in this excellent and very readable book. Many of the concepts and ideas presented have a lot of merit, and Jeff's personal history in tackling the subject of brains makes a good read as well. Jeff and others have since formed a company to commercialise the concepts contained within the book called Numenta.
This hugely ambitious undertaking seeks to simulate in as much biologically accurate detail as possible, firstly one complete neuron, followed by a complete cortical column structure, and then networks of columns organised in brain like fashions. Outcomes of such an accurate simulation could be advances in medical treatments for brain related disorders, and greater understanding of the underlying function of the brain.
ASIMO has to rate a mention as the generally accepted most advanced humanoid robot yet developed. The ASIMO platform can walk, run with both feet leaving the ground, and perform some impressive staged activities such as pushing a cart, although the emphasis is on mechanical abilities rather than intellgence itself. This represents what the brute force methods of conventional control methodologies and force actuation can do if enough effort is behind it!
Along with projects undertaken at Cornell and MIT universities, some great research was carried out based on the concept of passive dynamic walking machines. I recommend looking at videos of the Denise biped walking, it is incredible to think that this natural looking walking style has been achieved without complex control, there are merely contact switches under each foot driving the timing of heel push off and leg swing. The mechanical efficiency is very good, and certainly the passive dynamic concept has a lot of merit.
Boston Dynamics have several robots of note - the Big Dog is a military aimed four legged robot (actually pony sized) which shows good stability under external disturbances. One of the videos shows the robot kicked by an onlooker and taking several rapid steps in the opposite direction to maintain its balance. The RHex robot has a novel system of simple rotating one DOF legs which are amazingly effective - one video even shows the robot up on two legs and moving forward with a stable gait.
This page details a dog sized quadruped which is capable of walking on a variety of surfaces and changing direction smoothly. I have seen elsewhere a more packaged version of this robot in a video taken at some sort of exhibition, but this link merely details the research version.
Lithium polymer batteries represent pretty much the best energy density around for battery powered robot creations. There are dangers involved if the batteries are mistreated in any of several different ways, but chargers and other circuitry exists to protect the cells against damage or fire. Luckily the model aircraft hobby industry has jumped on this technology for light weight, high powered battery packs, and now robot builders can easily buy batteries and chargers.
This camera module is pretty unique in that it has an onboard JPEG encoder and a serial interface making it very easy to interface in to low end microprocessor systems (although only if that system is going to relay the frame over a link to a more powerful host that can handle the JPEG). The interface is very slow, at 115kbaud, thus really limiting the frame rate, but it is an alternative to the CMU cam which is more aimed at performing image and colour region detection rather than simply passing frames untouched on to the host for processing elsewhere.
I selected the Lantronix WiPort as the WiFi module of choice for speed of serial interface and ready availability. Although Grid Connect don't seem to be the cheapest, they sell the modules, the mating SMT connector, and antenna to suit.
Spark fun have a variety of sensors of interest to robot builders - particularly the IMU sensors, and they offer pre-loaded PCBs containing the often difficult to solder packaged accelerometers and gyroscopes which can be integrated into your own designs.
Tribotix supply robot kits and parts to Australia and surrounding regions with the great aim of promoting interest and further education in robotics.
The cost of getting dedicated PCBs manufactured used to be prohibitive for home constructors, however online services such as PCBCART offer prices about 1/5th of local sources and the quality is excellent too.
Pololu offer a reasonably priced laser cutting service based in the US but shipping internationally with reasonable rates. The service is aimed at robot experimenters in particular, and will produce low quantity laser cut parts from acrylic or ABS (not polycarbonate unfortunately).