My work to build the 2012 model of RoboLobster (which made an appearance in a previous post) continues. Lately I’ve been working on getting the robot’s electronics ready. Since I’m a biologist, this has definitely been a learning experience and I’ve been fortunate to have the help of Anthony, an engineer in our lab. Since the work we do in our lab on biomimetic robots is so interdisciplinary, we really have to work together to help each other on different aspects of our varied projects.
Right now I’m working on the electronics boards that take a signal from a computer (either a personal computer or a microchip computer on the vehicle) and drive actuators to make the robot move. The first step was to get the robot walking from a desktop computer using electronics that looked like this:
What a mess! Clearly that tangle of wires won’t fit inside our robot so we have to shrink the boards to a much smaller size, a stack about 5 inches tall that looks like this:
To make the boards so small we have to use microelectronic components. These are tiny and we have to solder each one onto the boards by hand. (Soldering means that we attach the components to the boards with a metal bond that forms after molten metal cools and hardens.)
Here’s a photo of three microresistors (those tiny black specks to the left of the penny) that were used in place of regular-sized resistors (one shown to the right of the penny):
While the process of soldering these tiny parts sounds tedious (and it can be), it’s actually somewhat satisfying. In graduate school, a lot of the work we do has uncertain outcomes- one never knows if an experiment will work as planned. However, when you have a list of 200 electrical components to solder onto a board, you have a definitive goal that can clearly be achieved.
Time to turn on some music and get soldering…