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How Do I Choose the Best Robot Controller?

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  • Written By: Lakshmi Sandhana
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Picking out the best robot controller for your specific robotic project is critical to its success. Also known as a microcontroller, a robot controller brings your robot to life by acting as its brain. It executes programs, performs computing tasks, communicates with other devices, and makes appropriate decisions. There are a wide variety, and to choose the best robot controller, you will need to consider the type of application, the number of pins on it, and the types of special features it has. Cost, support, accessories, and the programming language are other factors you need to keep in mind.

The preliminary design phase involves thinking about all the tasks you expect the robot to perform and other functions. If you have an idea of the kind of robot you would like to build, do a little research on the same or similar types of robots. Browsing through the robot controllers that others have used along with any feedback they may have posted will give you a good idea on where to begin.

Pick a controller that is easy for you to program and use. Many controllers targeted at beginners or intermediate-level robotic designers can be programmed in languages like Basic or C. Programmable interface controllers are quite inexpensive but not that easy to use. If you aren't familiar with any programming languages, pick a controller that has a very active user community and a programming language you would like to learn.

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Pictures, code, videos, and the free libraries that other designers share can come in very handy. This is also a good way to get onto forums with experienced robot builders and benefit from their advice. A controller has many electrical signal connections or pins controlled by the program that read the inputs from other devices. If you need to control many types of different devices, you will need a robot controller that has an equal number of pins or more. Each pin can be assigned for a different purpose if needed.

The two main types of pins are analog input/output (I/O) and digital I/O. If the robot controller lacks analog I/O pins, you will need to buy an analog-to-digital converter. The advantage of having a controller with digital pins is that it allows the controller to communicate with other controllers or digital devices. Depending on your application, it may be a good idea to go for a controller with several digital and analog pins.

Choosing a feature-rich robot controller allows you to try out many different functions. Programming the robot becomes easier when certain tasks can be taken care of by dedicated hardware. An integrated voltage regulator is a convenient feature to have because the controller can be powered within a broad voltage range. This frees the robot designer from having to provide an exact operating voltage.

Pulse-width modulation, analog-to-digital converters, and special support for certain communication protocols are other useful features. Speed requirements, memory, and cost are other factors to consider. In case you need to use special accessories, make sure that they are capable of interfacing with the controller of your choice. It is also good to pick a controller that has a good deal of documentation and support.

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