Product Review: PC Programmable Robot Line Tracing Kit

Gain Robot and Programming Experience With This Easy to Use Electronics Kit

Programmable Robot Line Tracing This awesome line tracing robot goes from box to track in a matter of minutes. Draw your own track and watch as the PC Programmable Robot Line Tracing Kit by ArTec Educational navigates through the twists and turns. It's a great introduction to robotics and programming and allows for complete creativity when designing the track.

Building the PC Programmable Robot Line Tracing Kit by ArTec Educational

The Programmable Robot Line Tracing Kit is designed for ages 8 and up. It includes a circuit board to be mounted to the top of the robot with bolts, two wheels, two gearboxes, a sensor board, and parts for mounting. You'll also need two AA batteries (not included).

Programmable Robot Line Tracing The circuit board features a touch sensor that when activated, gives the robot the green light to move. Power goes straight to the two motors which turn the robot's wheels to keep it on its way. The sensor board, complete with two optical sensors, detects varying light intensities (such as a dark line contrasted against a white piece of paper) which the robot uses to steer itself in the right direction, or the left, if your line is drawn that way.

The kit comes nearly assembled; just grab a screwdriver and some needle nose pliers and you're ready to go. The kit contains three bags: one with rubber bands, another with a jumble of nuts, bolts, and spacers of varying shapes and sizes, and the last containing the sensor board, circuit board, gearboxes, and battery holder – all of which are conveniently pre-wired. The instructions are straightforward and easy to follow.

Perhaps the most difficult part of assembly is positioning the motors. I had to squeeze them under the central metal plate in order for them to fit correctly. The motor's rear protrusions are located above the front metal plate (which holds the sensor board) and its hooks are pressed against the rear step bracket. As a result, attaching the motors requires a certain amount of precision.

Centering the motors is important. If the motors aren't centered, it's difficult to accommodate space to insert the metal brackets. Ensure that the motors are not upside down. It is also important to keep the rubber bands wrapped around the wheels as centered as possible; if they are not centered they can slow down the wheels' turning rates.

Programming the Robot Line Tracer

Programming the robot is easy especially since the software is very user friendly. Download ArTec's Control Software Program, then simply drag and drop the desired icons and hold the robot's sensor board over the specified area on your monitor. It helps to place the optical sensor's protective cover over the sensor board to increase the chances of a successful transfer. Finally, run the data transfer. Once the transfer finishes, place your finger on the touch sensor and the robot will carry out the predetermined movements. It's capable of starting or stopping, moving and waiting on a timer, or making left and right turns.

How Does it Work?

Programmable Robot Line Tracing The robot's sensors are located at the very front of the robot, acting as its "eyes" as it rolls along. Its optical sensors detect light intensity through photoconductive semiconductors. As the light intensity changes, the electrical resistance changes as well. When a sensor detects a shadow or a very dark color, the resistance increases. This translates to a cut off of electrical current to one of the robot's motors. Once the sensor detects higher light intensities – such as those emitted from bright vibrant colors – the resistance decreases, and the motor powers back on. The alternating of the motors from on to off allows the robot to turn. As one of the wheels stops rotating, the now stationary wheel becomes the axis to which the robot rotates around.

While the tracer is able to navigate the winding s-curves and sweeping hairpins you might design, it can occasionally sputter and put out a bad lap. To keep this from happening, keep a few of the following ideas in mind. Make sure that there aren't any extraneous shadows on the course and that the area is well lit. The optical sensors are quite sensitive and can even detect the subtle intensity variance between a piece of paper and a desk – a difference between white and light gray. Additionally, keep your lines to the recommended 20mm width and shape the curves to be larger than 100mm in diameter so the tracer doesn't stray.

All-in-all, the Programmable Robot Line Tracer provided an interesting experience as a starter kit. While the motors were slightly difficult to get into place, the building process was satisfying and took very little time to get going. Being able to devise your own tracks and program the robot allows for a good deal of imaginative and worthwhile experimentation as you test the tracer's capabilities. The Programmable Robot Line Tracer is a simple build for even the most novice robotics enthusiast, and it's entertaining to watch as it cruises along tracks of your own creative design.