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Standard Technologies of the Seattle Robotics Society

Robot Building Information, Hints, and Tips

This page has little tidbits of information about robotics, electronics, and other random subjects.

Resource List

This section provides some names and numbers that you might be able to buy parts from. These are all companies that I have had dealings with in the past, and have a certain amount of confidence in their reliability. This certainly isn't a complete list, as there are many great places to buy new and surplus parts. Shopping for parts always seems to be half the fun.

Buying Servo Motors

Servos are available from most hobby shops, however the pricing between stores can change dramatically. Many people order their servos from Tower Hobbies, which is a large R/C model supplier. Expect to pay around $15 for a Futaba S-148 servo with all of the control horns. Tower sells other useful parts as well, such as wheels, cables, and motors. Getting their catalog is normally worthwhile, although they are notorious for sending you a catalog every other week!

Tower Hobbies,

Buying Electronics

There are three basic ways of buy electronics that most people use: new, surplus, scavanged.

New supplies are always the nicest, since you often get exactly what you want. The downside is the premium price you pay. Many times, however, there is no other way to get certain parts. There are several mail order electronics suppliers. A couple that I have been quite happy with are:

Buying surplus parts, one can save an extreme amount of money. Surplus parts are quite often new (often called prime), high quality parts. The surplus dealers typically buy excess stock from various manufacturers which bought them to create their own goods. When a manufacturer changes or stops producing some design, they sell the excess parts to surplus dealers. You can quite often find parts for a 50-90% discount from the new cost. However, these are typically limited to stock on hand. Then availability becomes an issue. My suggestion is to try an buy parts surplus first, then new. Never hurts to shop around.

Some of my favorite surplus companies are listed below. All of them will send you a catalog if you call and ask for one. I suggest getting on all three mailing lists.

The last category of parts is scavanged, and one of my favorites. I have had good success finding old or broken consumer electronics and salvaging parts. Not only that, but after a while you will start to recognize how these machines are put together. A great learning experience. Here are some ideas:

There is something rather satisfying about taking apart some old gadget and finding useful things to do with its carcass. May I suggest, however, that if you only hang on to what you think you might need. Otherwise, you can easily fill your house with broken down equipment, and it becomes a pain to throw it away later. (Thats experience speaking!)

Books, Magazines, and Web Sites


Robot Books

Robot Builders Bonanza

99 Inexpensive Robotics Projects, Second Edition

by Gordon Mccomb, 2000

ISBN: 0-07-136296-7  

Gordon McComb recently updated his excellent book with a Second Edition. The first edition has long been a staple of the robot community, and the Second Edition is a hands down favorite. This book will give you lots of cool projects, ideas, and construction tips.

(If you plan to order, the link above will help support the Seattle Robotics Society)

AK Peters Ltd is a publisher of books, many of which are excellent robotics resources. Their address is

289 Linden Street,
Wellesley, MA 02181-5910
(617) 235-2210
FAX (617) 235-2404,
The following information was provided by AK Peters. If you don't have Mobile Robots, you are missing out.
Mobile Robots: Inspiration to Implementation
Joseph Jones, Anita Flynn
ISBN 1-56881-011-3

Again, from AK Peters is Sensors for Mobile Robots. This is an interesting book. It shows many different types of sensors, has some background into the sensors design goals, and some algorithms. One thing it lacks, however, are practical implementations of these sensors. Don't expect to be able to build something out of this book.

Sensors for Mobile Robots
H.R. Everett 1995,
ISBN 1-56881-048-2

Electronics Books

There are some really good books to help you learn about electronics. Check out your local bookstore. One book I have been pleased with is

Mastering Electronics
Watson, John
ISBN 0-07-068483-9
ISBN 0-07-068482-0 (Paperback)
Published by McGraw-Hill

This book seems to cover most of the basic topics of electronics, and then gives a good introduction to digital electronics. It is a pretty easy read, and one that you can learn from.

Another good source are books written by Forrest Mims III. He sells a series of reasonable books through Radio Shack, and most are reasonably priced. To be honest, I still end up referring to the same copy of his Engineers Notebook (bought new in 1981) even to this day. I would recommend the following book, or the latest in his series.

Get Started in Electronics
Radio Shack part 276-5003A
No ISBN number



There are a number of magazines that are relavent to the field of robotics. Here are the magazines I subscribe to.
Circuit Cellar

1-800-269-6301 This is a great electronics and microcontroller magazine. It focuses on real engineering projects using available techologies. They also have several sections on embedded PC design, and occasional robotic applications. A great source of information.
Nuts & Volts Magazine

1-800-783-4624 This magazine is an interesting mix of information and advertising. Much of the magazine looks like a classified ad section in the news paper with hundreds of little ads ranging from test equipment, ham radio gear, computer gear, etc. There is also a column written by Karl Lunt on Amatuer Robotics that usually has good information in it. Its also a great place to find ads for surplus parts.
Microcomputer Journal 1-719-254-4558 A good magazine about electronics and microcontroller based projects. The normal list of authors is quite impressive, and there are always a couple of projects to peak anyones interest, including robotics projects.

Web Sites

There are many good web sites out there. I suggest trying one of the search engines to find topics of interest to you. Here are some of my favorites

Robotics FAQ

Portland Area Robotics Society (PARTS)

Robotics Internet Resource Page .

MIT Robotics Link .

Academic Robotics Web Servers

University of Washingtion Robotics and Controls .

KrisTech's Robot Magazine

HBRobotics Club Builders Book

Construction Tips

Here are some of my favorite construction tips.

Paste Flux

Electronic solder comes with a core that is made of a substance called Flux. Flux is some nasty oily substance that helps solder flow correctly, and is extremely important to making a good solder connection. While I certainly can't explain the chemistry of how it works, I can tell you that it is very important to the soldering process. When you try to rework parts, however, you will find that the cooled solder joints do not have enough flux left in them. The result is usually a messy looking cold solder joint that probably is electrically weak.

Picture of paste flux

You can save yourself lots of time and effort by investing about $1 in a can of Paste Flux. This is basically a 2oz can of the same flux you find inside the solder itself. It allows you to put extra flux where you need it. It also is great for cleaning the tips of soldering irons. Just dip the end of the iron in the flux, and wipe on a wet sponge. It will get rid of all that oxidized crap that sticks to the end of your iron. If you need a little extra flux while soldering, just dip the wire solder in the can to pick up an extra film of flux. You will be absolutely amazed at how well your joints flow when you do.

For some relatively unknown reason, it appears that half the electronics guru's in the world have never heard of or used paste flux. However, go to just about any TV repair or electronic assembly house, and you will see a small can sitting next to every solder iron. You can order this from Digi-key as part KE1700-ND (costs $1.02).

Solder Wick

Picture of desolder wick

Solder wick is a great way to remove solder from a joint. It is typically used in 'rework' where you need to remove a part from a board without doing too much damage. It is basically a wire braid, much like you would find in coaxial cable. By putting it between a soldering iron and a solder joint, the wick heats up with the solder, and it sucks the solder out of the joint. It is extremely handy, and a suggested part of your toolbox. You can find it at Radio Shack. You can also find larger (and cheaper) rolls of it at Active Electronics, and also order it from Digikey. The brand name is CHEM-WIK Lite. I would suggest getting part 7-25L (Digi-key # CW7-25-ND), which is .075 inches wide, and about 25ft in length. It should cost about $9 or so, and will last a very long time. Its a good size to work with.

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