The Yost Engineering BugBrain is an educational robotics kit aimed at providing a decent development platform for robotics exploration. The BugBrain comes with a large variety of I/O devices: 6 LEDs, 3 manual push buttons, 2 automated push buttons (the antenna), a speaker, and two servos for leg control.
All-in-all, the BugBrain is an excellent platform to build and test your robotics ideas.
ConstructionConstruction of the BugBrain initially looks rather daunting, but the excellent construction manual and well labelled parts sheet (see right) made construction relatively straightforward.
Initially, all the components are soldered on to the robot's circuit board. Most of the soldering is basic, although a few integrated circuits have to be soldered on, requiring a little more dexterity. Next you prepare the legs. As it turns out, while the BugBrain looks like a six-legged walker, it isn't. It has six legs, but only two of them move - the other four are static and skirt across the ground.
Finally you install the servo mechanism. Now, the legs are moved in a rather novel way by attaching one servo on top of the other, so that the legs can move forward and backward as well as up and down. This makes for a rather bulky locomotion mechanism, but it works nicely and the ground clearance is more than sufficient.
The final result looks something like this:
Figures 1a & 1b: Final robot from top-left, mid-right angles.
Figure 2a & 2b: Final robot from front and end angles.
PerformanceInitially, the robot didn't perform too well - the moving legs were prone to shifting about in their joints, making walking movements very erratic. With a little tweaking of the leg positions, and some serious tightening with a small Allen key, the robot soon performed extremely well both on wooden floors and carpeted areas.
Also, despite being a relatively large walker with hobbyist servos, the BugBrain walks in a surprisingly straight line. The walking movement sways the robot back and forth, but the actual trajectory of the robot remains straight.
ProgrammingThe BugBrain is fully-programmable through the BasicX microprocessor on the chip. All the necessary equipment is also supplied: serial cable, software CD, and a little documentation. It is here, though, that the BugBrain is let down a little. The programming manual simply consists of seven example programs with little or no documentation.
While the construction manual was aimed at a beginner (tutorials on reading transistor colour codes and soldering tips), there is no introduction to the programming language syntax, no discussion about the library and utility calls available to the programmer and no explanation about how the servo/walking routine works. I found this to be really quite a disappointment.
Overall, though, the BasicX development environment is sufficient and the BasicX-supplied documentation is extensive, so once the actual programming of the BugBrain has been fathomed, it is easy to do.
Yost Engineering also encouranges users and students to submit programs they have written for the BugBrain by hosting two bi-annual competitions - one aimed at decorating the BugBrain, and another aimed at interesting programs. Actually, the support from Yost Engineering is very impressive and worth mentioning. All purchasers receive unlimited toll-free and e-mail support. Registerd users can receive a monthly newsletter that covers common tech questions, and additional programming/building ideas. For example, the newsletter I received with the kit detailed how to attach an ultrasonic range finder to the 20-pin expansion slot on the BugBrain. This is a superb amount of support for one robot.
ConclusionThe BugBrain is a great platform to build and program. A large number of a I/O devices coupled with the generous expansion slot means you can implement all sorts of projects both in the classroom and at home. While the programming documentation severely lacked, the level of support Yost Engineering supply should help any users having problems.
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