I’m now taking an Intro to Engineering course at Virginia Western Community College. As part of this course, students divide into teams of 3-4 and build a robot to perform in a modified ASEE robotics competition. (I’d like to note that my experience in VEX and FIRST has already helped me significantly in this class.) Each team is loaned a Parallax Board of Education (BOE) kit with the BASIC Stamp 2 (BS2). This is a review of my first experiences with the BOE-Bot.
Overall, everything was easy to get set up. The online documentation for the BOE-Bot is easy to access and descriptive. Installation of the official software was simple and fast. Actually, while the software installed, I got the first example circuit set up. This the picture on the right–a simple LED circuit. One LED is connected to each I/O 12 and 13. After playing with this circuit for a bit (practice looping, pulse out commands, etc.), I went on to build the standard robot.
This robot uses a pre-built aluminum chassis and very few other parts, so the actual weight of the robot is much less than a comparable NXT or VEX robot.
It uses two continuous-rotation servos for the drive. Right now, I don’t have any sensors on it, but I have a couple IR LEDs and receivers for a primitive distance sensor. It also comes with a set of “whisker”-style touch-bumpers.
Programming the BOE-Bot should be easy for anyone familiar with the BASIC family of languages (especially the older ones, i.e. QBASIC). I will say that it is much more bare-bones than other languages I’ve used, for example, ROBOTC. Instead of just sending the motors a command to spin at a certain power level, I have to manually give the pulseout commands to the servos.
I do have two concerns, which will be interesting to follow over the semester: speed of included motors, and 16-bit architecture.
Speed of motors isn’t a really big issue–I can just get some other types. It’s only a problem due to the limited budget we have for the class competition; a set of two motors and controllers would take a large portion of that. The included motors spin at a maximum of about 50rpm. For comparison, VEX motors have a max speed of 100rpm or 160rpm, depending on the motor.
16-bit variables are a bit more of an issue. I’m used to the 32-bit NXT or VEX Cortex, so watching for overflow at numbers just over 65000 as opposed to over 4.2×10^9 is a bit challenging.
All in all, the BOE seems to be a very user-friendly robot. Approximately 4.5 hours after starting work, I now have a robot that drives back/forth and turns. I’m looking forward to a great semester project.