Save 24% on “active” status Pololu-brand products using code MEMORIALDAY24

Jon's dead reckoning robot

Posted by Jon on 10 April 2014

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. If you want to know more about the competition rules and how it was judged, see the LVBots dead reckoning rules (23k pdf).

The first part of the dead reckoning competition is basically a line following exercise. Not having made a successful line follower before, it seemed reasonable to base my entire robot off of the 3pi, which is a great starting platform for line following. My plan was to closely mimic the 3pi’s hardware, get a working robot, then make progressive hardware upgrades to make Usain Volt fast enough to resemble his namesake. I accomplished just about half of that.

Legacy hardware

The 3pi robot uses an ATmega328 microcontroller, TB6612FNG dual motor driver, two 30:1 low power micro metal gearmotors, and five of the sensors used in our QTR-1RC. Usain Volt uses a version of those 30:1 gearmotors with an extended motor shaft, so that it can be used with our 5V optical encoder kit. Instead of five QTR-1RC sensors, I opted to use a single QTR-3RC, since I was convinced that I only needed three sensors to detect the line. The bot is controlled by a Baby Orangutan robot controller, which features both the ATmega328 and TB6612FNG on a single convenient board. The controller is set up to read output from the QTR sensors and encoder counts.

Don’t worry, Usain Volt’s battery does not sink lower than the bottom of the wheels and caster.

Every robot a snowflake

While I did stick with most of the same hardware the 3pi uses, I also allowed myself a little flexibility by gearing my design towards a more prototyping-friendly robot. I knew from previous builds that I could save construction time by using solderless breadboards to make my connections. So, my robot’s chassis was designed to have space for at least two 170-point breadboards in addition to mounting the legacy hardware. Because I had yet to solidify my choice of power source, I had the chassis laser cut from plywood (⅛"), which allowed me to hand drill additional mounting holes with ease. You can see in this bottom view of Usain Volt that I ended up using this to my advantage to mount the main regulator:

It’s not ideal, but the wires can be forced into a position where they do not interfere with the rotation of the wheels.

I found our step-up/step-down voltage regulators particularly useful when selecting a power source for my robot – the wide range of input voltages both above and below my desired output voltage (6V) lifted the constraints on the nominal voltage of my power source.

I use our pushbutton power switch to turn the robot on and off, and added several pushbuttons while tuning my PID controller so I could more or less tune “in the field”, and not have to run back to my office, connect the bot to my computer, and upload a different value each time I wanted to make a slight adjustment. I used our 5V regulator to supply a constant voltage to the QTR-RC sensors. Instead of mounting a battery holder and alkaline batteries, I used a lightweight 2S LiPo and double sided tape. I also opted for a slightly larger diameter wheel than the one used on the 3pi, which would allow it to rotate faster when supplied with the same voltage. Bonus: those wheels are black and yellow, which are definitely appropriate colors for Usain Volt.

After construction, I had left only time enough to tune Usain Volt’s PID controller so it could follow a line. Unfortunately, I was not able to begin any real dead reckoning coding, so you won’t be able to see my robot in the dead reckoning video.

Future plans

I do plan to eventually make my robot capable of completing our dead reckoning course. After that, I want to upgrade the gearmotors and motor driver for faster completion times. Also, sometime in the near future, I plan to recut the chassis in ⅛" acrylic – green, of course.


That sensor seems to be very far forward compared to the driving wheels -- even a small amount of difference in rotation will turn the front very far. Did you consider putting the sensor between the two big wheels, and driving the robot the other way (dragging the ball behind it)?
Hi, Jon.

I had not thought of that. It sounds like a fun alternative configuration (the movement would be fun to watch!), but I suspect that there might not be enough time for the microcontroller to react to the readings from the QTR sensors if the array is placed directly between the drive wheels. In fact, I think it's better to have the sensor as far forward on your robot as it can go, though the length of your robot should probably be limited by the smallest turn radius in the line following course.

I should also point out that I based my chassis off of this line following robot.

It's pretty quick, follows the line well, and has very far forward line sensors. So, I suspect that while moving the location of that sensor array back toward the drive wheels now might make it easier for my current code to follow the line, I should probably just change up my code to line follow better.


Post a comment

Using your Pololu account allows you to customize your avatar and manage your comments; you can also post anonymously.

Related Products

Custom Laser Cutting Service
Baby Orangutan B-328 Robot Controller
30:1 Micro Metal Gearmotor LP 6V with Extended Motor Shaft
Optical Encoder Pair Kit for Micro Metal Gearmotors, 5V
Pololu Wheel 60×8mm Pair - Yellow
QTR-3RC Reflectance Sensor Array
Pololu Pushbutton Power Switch SV (old version)
Mini Pushbutton Switch: PCB-Mount, 2-Pin, SPST, 50mA (5-Pack)
Pololu 5V Step-Up/Step-Down Voltage Regulator S10V4F5
170-Point Breadboard (Black)
Log In
Pololu Robotics & Electronics
Shopping cart
(702) 262-6648
Same-day shipping, worldwide
Shop Blog Forum Support
My account Comments or questions? About Pololu Contact Ordering information Distributors