In the world of robotics, prototypes are a way to identify and solve a problem. This can be a consumer problem, a global problem, or even just a personal problem. Having an idea for something to build and program isn’t usually enough. If you want to be successful in this competitive age, you need to dig deeper.
New prototypes are created every day. The rise of affordable prototyping materials and techniques like 3D printing and digital modeling makes this process more accessible than ever before. This is both good news and bad news. Good news because it means there are fewer obstacles to overcome when going from initial idea to prototype. Bad news because you’ll need to push yourself harder if you want to stand out.
How exactly is prototyping done in robotics? Believe it or not, it’s not all that different from prototyping in any industry. You’ll still need an idea, a clear market, and the tools to build your initial model. From there, things get a little bit trickier as you’ll need to develop the prototype through programming and extensive testing. However, it’s still easier than ever to create your own robotic prototype in today’s age of technology.
1. Crafting Your Idea
As we mentioned earlier, an idea isn’t enough on its own. You’ll also need a problem. Defining the problem clearly is often the hardest part of the initial prototyping stages. Robotics are engineered to solve problems and make life easier. What problem is it that you’re trying to solve? There needs to be a clear purpose behind what it is you’re trying to do. Without a clear problem, it will be hard to market your product or find funding.
Luckily, in the world of robotics, the problem will oftentimes come to you. For instance, a university or local organization might come to you with a current problem they need you to solve. This is a good way to get the ball rolling.
Next, you’ll need to do your research. What information is out there already about this problem? What technology would lend itself to solving it? Make sure you can answer these design questions:
- What is the function of my design?
- How will the design appear and how does this appearance make sense for its function?
- What materials fit both the appearance and function?
- How will I build my robot?
2. Begin Creating
Now that you’ve completed the research and initial states, it’s time to begin building the robot itself. Sometimes there isn’t a single clear way to start creating, and you might have several models at first until you narrow them down to the most effective design. Push yourself to think of at least 2 different ways to solve the problem. Map these out individually until you’re sure of the best idea.
Start with working drawings. Think of this like a template that will give a rough sketch of the overall design. You might wish to model this prototype design on the computer with software designed for that. This is a good idea if you have a particularly complicated concept and need to work out some of the design problems prior to working with materials.
Troubleshoot your design until you’re satisfied. Then, it’s time to move on to the building phase. Creating your initial prototype only means more testing. Don’t worry about perfection, since this is the stage when you want to work out the big and small problems so you can build a stronger robot. No matter what your budget is, 3D printing is an easy, effective way to create initial prototypes that are perfect for robotics projects (source: www.3erp.com/rapid-tooling-injection-molding/).
Once you’ve completed your initial prototype, it’s time to start programming. The basic steps include things like replays, potentiometers, and bump switches, but you can go beyond this if your goals need it. Adding sensors or additional logic wiring can add more sophisticated elements of control. A software like Robolab or RCX Bricks helps you break down complicated processes into manageable chunks.
Once your programming work is completed, it’s back to testing. You’ll need to try your robot for yourself to ensure everything you designed actually works. Evaluate both the design and the function to make sure your creation accomplishes its key goals. It’s unlikely that everything will work perfectly the first time around, and that’s completely normal. Continue doing tests at different stages of the production process to make sure you don’t need any modifications to your plan.
Your last step is to test the entire product as a whole. Does it do its job well? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Once again, you might need to make continued adjustments, but that’s just a natural part of the process.
It’s easier than ever to create a prototype of your robotic project. You don’t need costly materials, production, or even advanced programming skills to get started on simple designs. With the help of computer technology and prototyping methods like 3D printing, you really can solve complex problems with simple solutions.
What will you think of next? If you have an idea, it’s time to put it to the test with a prototype. There’s no better way to learn more about your project inside and out than to create it for yourself.