Friday, August 10, 2012

$10 Robot Design Challenge. I Accept.

The African Robotics Network (AFRON) is sponsoring the $10 Robot Design Challenge wherein competitors are to design educational, programmable robots approaching $10 in cost for use by African (and other) schoolchildren.

I saw this about a month ago and have been thinking it over.

Why consider this? I want robotics to be the future and I want the doors opened for kids around the world. I've been considering doing a local robotics class for awhile. Well, it's time for me to stop thinking and do something.

So, ok. I hereby accept the challenge. A couple of years ago I wasn't sure how I could possibly build a useful, interesting $50 robot and now I'm committing to designing a $10 robot. Call my crazy.
The goal of the AFRON "10 Dollar Robot" Design Challenge is to design a new class of affordable robots for learning (especially in primary and secondary schools). Robots excite people of all ages. Their physical behavior in response to programs and/or sensors inspires student interest in computers, science, math, and engineering more broadly. However, existing platforms are often too expensive for students in many African countries and other emerging economies (this competition is open to anyone worldwide).
Note that US$ 10 is a target but we are happy to accept designs that don't reach this goal.
Deadline is Sept 12, 2012 at which point I'll post up my entry.

Some initial thoughts...

  • I plan to use a real microcontroller, probably Arduino based, and probably supported by Minibloq, but the rest of the components have to be pico-cheap and clever. 
  • I want the robot to be functional and interesting. 
  • Even one Sharp IR sensor blows the entire budget and then some. What can be done with IR LEDs? 
  • Two 280-size DC motors blow most if not all of the budget. How to move the robot inexpensively? 
  • The cheapest servos I know about still knock out at least a third of the budget, each. Can an actuator be scratch-built that works well enough and costs even less? 
  • What about power supply?


  1. Mini DC motor from China $1 in bulk. CdS photoresister $1 (cheaper in bulk). LED 25 cents. 20MHz PIC micro $2. 20MHz ceramic resonator $1. That's about $5-6 total. Put the other necessary diodes, resistors batteries, or a second DC motor, and you could do an awful lot with that. Move, detect colours or light/dark. Follow a line. Would be interesting for education purposes.

  2. What an interesting challenge! Good luck!

    Movement is a problem; As you said, even the cheapest motors will be a significant part of the budget. I find myself thinking about hand wound solenoids. I haven't come up with a good transmission mechanism that is free or nearly so, but I think it could work. Perhaps a walking hexapod like mechanism made out our wood, cardboard or plastic.

    I'm curious to know if you can use IR LED / detector (like opto-interrupters) for sensing objects. It sounds possible.

    It that doesn't work, bumpers and switches might be cheap enough.

    Good luck,
    Steve T


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