Welcome to the next chapter!


Hopefully by now you have some ideas and you'd like to start acquiring materials. But there's just one do you put it all together? What tools do you need?  Do you have a place to put everything?


To give you an idea of what to expect in the near future, I'll discuss the following subjects:

  • Workspace
  • Software - Considerations you need to make before buying anything
  • Hardware - useful tools
  • Electronics Tools
  • Electronic Components - classic components and what they do


For now, let's look at where you'll be doing your work and research.  Depending on your age or the people in your home, this decision may be made for you! 


A good workspace is absolutely essential. It is your sanctum sanctorum, your crystal fortress, your Wonka factory!  Many people overlook the value of a good workspace and are content to cram themselves into any corner.  I don't have much choice, but I do shape my environment as best I can. 


I also advise the students I coach for various robotics leagues that they need to take care of the room they borrow when we have our club meetings.  If we don't take care of the room, the school may take it away.  Don't let such a problem happen to you!


What Makes a Good Workspace


Space (of course!)

You'll obviously want enough space to work effectively.  If you have to shove things
around on a small desktop, you'll waste a lot of time losing important pieces.


You will also want room to store your equipment.  If you have to change rooms every time
you need a tool, you'll end up losing your tools and wasting more time.  Think about
where you can put shelves, storage boxes, and toolkits.


Ventilation is very important if you plan to do electrical work.  The act of soldering
releases fumes that will hang in the air for quite a while.

Air Quality

What is the air like in your workspace?  Damp?  Hot?  Moisture is obviously dangerous to electronics. I've lost more than a cd player to damp air before.

What about heat?  If you plan on having a computer nearby, heat can be a problem. 


Will you have enough light in your workspace?  Sometimes it's very difficult to dig around inside a robot if you cannot adjust a light to an angle that will help.  Some robot parts are tiny, and finding dropped screws can be a nightmare. 


Of course, you'll need adequate power.  Do you need to add more light? Is your computer
easily accesssible?  Can you safely power all the electrical devices you need?  My home computer doesn't use most of its power, but it can draw a couple hundred watts depending on the application.  Along similar lines, I have a DC power supply to provide power to a circuit
or to test a motor.  These items are on the same circuit as a television and a few other
devices. If I had this setup in my previous residence and ran the dehumidifier to remove the damaging moisture in the air, I would trip the circuitbreaker repeatedly.  This can damage your computer.


Electrostatic Discharge is one of those things like teen drunk driving...everyone knows it happens, we know it causes real damage, and yet when it applies to ourselves we tend to forget it until it causes serious damage. 

What is it?   It's the *zap* you get after scuffing your feet on the rug and then touching metal or another person.  We routinely carry somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 volts of static electricity as we walk. It's mostly harmless to people, but it can weaken or damage sensitive digital devices.

Case in point:  I destroyed one of the ports of my network hub because I let a cable dangle to the floor for a couple days. That's all it took. 

You may never destroy any equipment, but why risk destroying a few hundred dollars of circuit boards if you don't have to?  Invest in an anti-static mat for your desktop, and perhaps get an antistatic wristband. 

Computer Support

Can you run a USB cable from the computer to the robot? Or do you have to move furniture every time you need to plug something into the computer?

Clean Up

Cleaning up is important, especially if you use a lot of cutting or drilling tools.  Depending
on your project, you may need access to a shop-vac.  You probably don't want to be
sucking up shards of metal with the family vaccuum.  If you are building a messy project,
then consider spending two bucks on painter's plastic at the home improvement store. For
just a couple dollars, you can get large sheets of plastic that can catch all the junk
you spill, and then gathered and disposed later.  If you are careful, you can save the
plastic for future efforts. 


Remember, all these factors depend on what kind of robot you want to build.  You probably
would not build a lego robot in the garage, and you probably would not build a 300 lb
demolition-bot in your bedroom. 

For smaller projects, you can probably build them in most rooms with a little space and
computer access.  An open window is enough ventilation for light soldering work, and
machine-work may be done with a drill over an old towel or some strong cutting tools which
can be kept in a closet.

Larger projects are usually done in a garage or similar working environment.  When you
bring home large components or heavy equipment, moving them from car to garage is easier
than hauling them to the basement.  Most garages, however, are not designed for comfort
and can be very cold in the winter.

Example:  My Workspace

I tend to work on different kinds of projects, and I do them in different areas.  For larger projects, I work in someone else's garage.  For smaller projects, I work at home.  How do I set up my workspace?

Space  - I have a small work area in the corner of the living room separated from everything else by furniture and a child-gate if necessary.  

Storage - I keep my tools in a toolbox in the closet, and parts in labelled boxes and containers. I keep these containers on nearby shelves.

Ventilation - I'm next to the window, so I can create a nice breeze if necessary. 

Air Quality - My home isn't near any sources of water, so humidity isn't a problem. The computer is also near the vent so it will stay cool in hot weather.

Light - I have a bright lamp nearby, and it has adjustable mini-lamps that I can activate when necessary.

Power - not a problem, everything is connected to a surge protector on a separate circuit

Static - I don't have much space for a large anti-static mat, but the circuit boards I use have protected 'feet', and I can touch the case of the computer to disperse static.

Computer - Easily accessible and has plenty of ventilation.

Clean Up - The floor is smooth wood, so nothing a broom and a vacuum cleaner can't handle.

Accessibility - I only work with small projects, so bringing materials to my workspace is not a problem.

That's it for now!  Next we'll look into tools and other equipment which will come in handy.




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