Robotics for Kids (and Adults) – Getting Started and How to Progress

by on December 9, 2015

SIK_Shadow_Chasis Sparkfun

I get many questions from people about how I think kids and adults should get started in robotics, how they should progress, and what they should buy, to learn about robotics. Here is my quick response:

I think level 1 is for people older than 12-13. Level 2 is for people older than 15, and Level 3 would be for people over 18. An adult can probably start at Level 2 if really desired, however starting at Level 1 will give the basic skills and knowledge that is important to have.

Sorry I do not know about anything for kids younger than 12.

Also don’t worry about the details. For example you do not need to learn how SPI or wifi works. Just use it and you will slowly pick-up the details.

Level 1 – Getting Started with Micros

  1. Set a clear and realistic goal – Robots are hard, make expectations that match skills.Your first robot should be really simple.
  2. Recommended BookMake: Arduino Bots and Gadgets: Six Embedded Projects with Open Source Hardware and Software and Arduino Robot Bonanza
  3. Get your hands dirty – Learn how to mechanically and electrically build a robot.
    1. For this task design and build a robot that uses an Arduino Uno, 2-4 motors, 2-4 simple sensors, a switch, a LED and a battery
    2. The Sparkfun Inventors Kit for Redbot is a great choice for this step (it uses a fake Arduino, but that’s fine).
    3. Design on paper what the robot should look like and the parts that you need (If you buy a kit, use it, but then modify it)
    4. Build the robot using basic hand and power tools
  4. Learn how to program – Use the Arduino to program the robot.
    1. Just make the light on the Arduino blink. If you have never done this before, it will take longer than you think it!
    2. Spin a single motor
    3. Read from your sensors and play with them – use Microsoft Excel to generate a calibration curve
    4. Combine the sensors and motor code to do what you desire
  5. Join a robotics club – There are many options that can include

Level 2 – Getting Started with Embedded Computing

  1. Set a clear and realistic goal – Build upon what you learnt in Level 1 to set goals for level 2.
  2. Recommended BookMake a Raspberry Pi-Controlled Robot: Building a Rover with Python, Linux, Motors, and Sensors
  3. Get your hands dirty – Learn how to mechanically and electrically build a robot.
    1. For this task, design and build a robot that uses a Raspberri Pi computer, 2-4 motors, 2-4 sensors, and a battery
    2. Design your parts with a CAD tool (such as Google Sketchup or Solidworks)
    3. Think about how you will interface your sensors to the computer?
    4. Use new materials and construction techniques. Try to use a 3D printer or laser cutter if possible.
  4. Learn how to program – Use the Linux computer to program the robot.
    1. Learn basic C++ or Python, try talking to serial ports
    2. Make your robot act as desired

Level 3 – Advanced Computing

  1. Set clear and realistic goals – Goals should be increasing in difficulty as you advance. At this point you can pick a goal that might not be achievable, but that you can still attempt.
  2. Learn basic trig and statistics – Learn the basic math that you need for robotics.
  3. Get someone else’s hands dirty – Design a part and shop it out to be machined.
  4. Learn how to use more advanced sensors – Such as a Camera and/or LIDAR.
  5. Software – Learn the Robot Operating System (ROS)
  6. Algorithms – Continue making software more advanced. Autonomy, mapping, device drivers, etc…

I tend to like Sparkfun for getting hobby parts. Other places you should look are Adafruit, and Pololu. They all have blogs and tutorials for using the hardware they sell including basic robotics, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi.

There you have it. That is a path you can take to learning robotics. Each level can take a while to develop and learn, but it sets you up for the knowledge you need to advance to the next level.

Main image is the Sparkfun Inventors Kit for Redbot that I recommended in Level 1.

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Hi, a great step by step on how to get kids and adults started in robotics and arduino adventures. It must be said that arduino is a gateway product, and leads to bigger and badder robots. Hehe.

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