Welcome to the Pololu Blog, where we provide updates about what we and our customers are doing and thinking about. This blog used to be Pololu president Jan Malášek’s Engage Your Brain blog; you can view just those posts here.
LVBots is a robotics club that has been meeting at the Pololu office in Las Vegas, Nevada for almost ten years. Our meetings are open to all ages and skill levels, and everyone is encouraged to bring their projects to share – even projects that are not capable of flying hundreds of feet into the air. Do you live in the area, or are you passing through? Check out our schedule and join us!
The Las Vegas Mini Maker Faire 2014 was on April 5th, and as you might have heard, we had a booth there with demos of our products. For more about the faire and a video, see my previous blog post. This post details the Simple Motor Controller and Sharp analog distance sensor demo that we brought. The demo was popular at the faire with both kids and adults, and though it is simple, it is a great tool for showing those who are just getting interested in robotics what one of the first steps to building a robot might look like. Continued…
This PID line follower, originally featured in this Let’s Make Robots post by user Enigmerald, uses our 5" Robot Chassis along with 30:1 MP micro metal gearmotors, extended brackets, and our 42×19 mm wheels. Our QTR-8RC Reflectance Sensor Array is used to sense the line and our TB6612FNG carrier, along with an Arduino-compatible controller, is used to control the motors. A diagram of how everything is connected and the code for the robot are available in Enigmerald’s post. The post also has a link to a basic tutorial on PID tuning using the QTR array.
We have expanded our selection of miniature tank tracks to include a variety of colors. The new tracks are identical in function to the black miniature track links, but now come in blue, red, and yellow. Track links of different colors can be combined to create fun and interesting patterns to give your robot some added character.
These miniature track links work great for small indoor robots, especially on carpet, and they are compatible with a variety of injection-molded sprocket sets such as:
Get a FREE copy of Circuit Cellar magazine’s April issue with your order while supplies last. To get your free issue, enter the coupon code CIRCUIT0414 into your shopping cart. The magazine will add 6 ounces to the package weight when calculating your shipping options.
For other issues and more information, see our Free Circuit Cellar Magazine Offers page. All issues are now available for shipping worldwide!
Get a FREE copy of Elektor magazine’s April issue with your order while supplies last. To get your free issue, enter the coupon code ELEKTOR0414 into your shopping cart. The magazine will add 7 ounces to the package weight when calculating your shipping options.
For other issues and more information, see our Free Elektor Magazine Offers page. All issues are now available for shipping worldwide!
Shawn and Lara Steele, known on the Pololu forum as kresty, built a functional, full-size, LEGO R2-D2 named L3-G0. L3-G0’s design is based on plans from the R2-D2 Builder’s Club, and it is made from around 16,000 LEGO bricks. It weighs roughly 30 kg (65 lbs) and can travel at a speed of 8 km/h (5 mph). The astromech has a fully functional rotating dome with multiple blinking lights. The dome is rotated using our 80mm wheel fitted with a high-traction sticky tire and powered by one of our 37D gearmotors. L3-G0 is controlled using a 9-channel RC transmitter and features an Arduino along with dedicated motor controllers and sound boards. Electric scooter motors were used for the drive wheels. The astromech also uses Pololu motor controllers and voltage regulators, as well as a SparkFun MP3 Trigger for audio. Continued…
Today we released a general-purpose AVR microcontroller breakout board, the A-Star 32U4 Micro. But before I get to the A-Star (A* for short), I would like to mention some of our history with AVR boards.
Some of our history with AVR boards
It has been almost ten years since we introduced our Orangutan Robot Controller, which featured an AVR microcontroller, dual motor drivers, and user-friendly features like a display and buzzer. Over the years we expanded the line, making larger, more complicated Orangutans like the Orangutan SVP as well as the miniature Baby Orangutan.
I have used the Baby Orangutan in many of my own projects, because I like its simplicity and small size. Ironically, the built-in motor driver gets in the way when I want to use a newer motor driver such as the DRV8835 in a project, since valuable PWM pins are unavailable. So I have built my more recent robots using minimal microcontroller breakout boards without motor drivers, such as Arduinos and the Wixel. (I posted about my latest such project last week.)
Our focus has been on boards that include motor drivers, and we have not had a really simple microcontroller board for people who don’t want the motor driver. Even though there are far more powerful controllers available, 8-bit AVR microcontrollers continue to be popular in the community, and the basic AVR breakout board is something we have wanted to make for a long time.
Introducing the A-Star 32U4 Micro
That is why I am excited today to announce the A-Star 32U4 Micro, a Pololu breakout board for Atmel’s ATmega32U4 AVR microcontroller:
Compared to the popular ATmega328P microcontroller that we used on several Orangutan models, the ATmega32U4 is a newer processor with features like more analog inputs, more PWM outputs, and, most importantly, USB support. The USB connection, which we have broken out to a Micro-B connector, makes programming easy and enables interesting projects involving connections to a PC.
Also, since the ATmega32U4 is used on the Arduino Leonardo, Arduino Micro, and many other breakout boards, there is a large community with experience using the microcontroller. To support this community, we are shipping the A* with an Arduino-compatible bootloader and have followed Arduino conventions including pin numbering and LED connections.
Since we wanted to make a minimal breakout board, we decided to make it as small as we could, hoping that it would be small and cheap enough to go into (and stay in) almost any project. The result is that the A-Star 32U4 Micro is, as far as we know, the smallest ATmega32U4 breakout board available. It is even smaller than some AVR boards with less powerful microcontrollers that implement USB support in software and have only a few general-purpose I/O lines available.
Now that we have reached a reasonable extreme on the minimal end, we intend to expand back toward more integrated features, eventually replacing our older Orangutan robot controllers with versions offering more modern power handling and perhaps other features like inertial measurement sensors. What would you like to see in an integrated robotics or automation controller? Did we leave out too much on the A-Star 32U4 Micro? Please let us know in the comment section.
For more information, see the A-Star 32U4 Micro product page.
Last weekend Las Vegas had its second Mini Maker Faire. The event was hosted by the local hacker space Syn Shop and included booths with displays ranging from 3D printers, electric cars, and a full-size R2-D2 to art exhibits and handmade steampunk clothing. Pololu had a booth at the event with several demos of products like our Simple Motor Controllers, linear actuators, LED strips, and Zumo Robots. We will be following up this post later with others that detail some of the specific demos, but in the meantime, check out this video of the event!
Like other engineers here, I made a robot for the LVBots dead reckoning competition. Before I knew about this competition, I hadn’t made a successful dead reckoning robot. By the end of this competition, I still hadn’t made a successful dead reckoning robot. However, I did learn more about myself and a little more about line following. This post describes my robot, Usain Volt, and details some of what I was thinking when I designed it. Continued…
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