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High schoolers build Linux-powered robots

Aug 25, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Linux-powered robots make great projects for high school science class curriculums, according to… Maine-based high school teacher Michael Surran, in an article about the robots he and his students have created.

The inspiring article, published by LinuxJournal, describes how Surran and his students built a variety of robots from readily available components — old PC motherboards, windshield wiper motors, lawn mower wheels, plywood, and vintage erector sets. The robots all run Linux, and demonstrate extreme resourcefulness.

For example, Surran and his class attached mousepads to the wheels of one tri-wheeled robot, using optical mice to measure rotational distance. This allowed the robot to determine its position on a pre-loaded map, but also helped it drive straight, thanks to software written by a student that adjusts the steering angle to equalize the rotational speed of each rear wheel.

Another ingenious hack involved a sonar-powered automotive “back-up meter” given to Surran at an office holiday party. Surran and his students pressed the device into service as an obstacle avoidance system, wiring the device's yellow and red warning lights into parallel inputs on the robot's motherboard.

Surran says that he chose Gentoo Linux, in part because of its orientation toward Python, a scripting language used to teach basic programming techniques to eight graders at Surran's school.

Surran hopes to use laptop components in the future, to increase battery life. He also looks forward to building a robot using a Technologic TS-7260 donated to the school.

Surran's story can be found here.

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