Thursday, March 10, 2005

Conflicts of Resources

One of the things that you will discover when you try to build your own autonomous robot is the competing and conflicting demands for resources. These generally include the following:
  • Sensors
  • Computation
  • Power
  • Communication
  • Motor Speed / Torque
  • Size
  • Time
You want your robot to do smart things so you need computation. But running an 800MHz processor takes a lot of power. Presumably you won't be plugging your robot into the wall, so you'll need to carry on-board batteries. If you need lots of power, you'll need big batteries which take up space and will increase the weight of your robot and demand more power from your motors which in turn demand more power from your batteries.

Communication is a requirement for some robots to transmit data to their masters or to their robot brethren. In some cases, communication is also a way of circumventing the need for bulky on-board computation and just running most of the code on a server. But communication also requires power. And communication also adds delay to the performance of your robot.

You can begin to see the interconnecting constraints that all of these resources impose on each other. This is where engineering comes in and you need to roll up your sleeves and just try some designs, gain some experience, and learn what you can. Talking to others who have gone down this gauntlet can be helpful, but they may have taken a different path and they may have missed some shortcuts on the way. Plus technology improves over time and becomes cheaper. Things that were impossible 5 years ago may now be practical.


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