Is The Robot Hobby For Everyone?

 
#1

There is a good article in this months Maker Magazine where someone made the comment that Robotics fascinates them because of all of the various disciplines that one has to have to build robots. This got me thinking about everything that you would need to understand in order to be proficient at building a robot. It also got me thinking about all of the different people who ask me questions both on this forum and off this forum.

To build a custom robot you require some knowledge in the following areas (list isn't comprehensive)
Mechanical Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Various programming skills at different levels of the robot
Graphics and design
3D modeling
3D printing possibly (which brings with it similar skill requirements) or some other manufacturing technique
Computer competency
Network competency
Brain storming and problem solving
Decent communication skills.
Ability to work with others.
No fear of learning new things
Ability to keep up with and adapt to ever changing technology improvements in any of these areas.

Not all of these are essential and it is possible to learn enough to get by in some of these. There are options to get around most short comings in most of these areas, but the more of these shortcomings that people have, the more frustrating it will be for them. There are ready built robots like the EZ-Robot robots that take a lot of the need to understand these areas out of the way but depending on how far you want to take one of these, there will always be a need to understand some basic programming principles. EZ-Builder removes a lot of this need, but to really use EZ-Builder in the way it was designed to be used, the person has to have some basic understanding of logic and programming. This will get you by and many will be happy stopping at this level of knowledge.

To take your robot hobby to the level that most really desire to take it to, I think that all of these are required but most importantly a strong desire to learn new things daily. I can tell you that I have many many many more failures than successes. For example, when writing code for something, it may fail 20 times before I get it right and working and each time that this happens I learn something new. I am sure that this is the experience for most programmers and especially for people in this hobby. Having a strong understanding of all of these different disciplines is not an easy thing. Giving up isn't an option for me. It's not in my nature so I brute force through an issue that I don't always understand completely.

There are also many who help me because of relationships that I have built. These relationships are probably the most important thing to being successful aside from a burning desire to learn new things. These relationships are very valuable to me as they also help to learn new things. Google is also a key contributor to my successes (spoiler alert) along with every other person I have ever worked with that is successful at what they do. Burning bridges is not something that I take lightly at all, but I have had to burn a few in my day.

I can think of no other hobby that requires the massive volume of understanding that is required by this hobby. Again, new products come out all of the time that make each of these less critical than they were 5 years ago, but still, an understanding is essential for these also. I say this just to paint a realistic picture. This hobby isn't for everyone. Many will like robotics but few will truly grasp what is going on. Many will want to use robots but few will be able to build them. In my experience teaching this subject to some very young students, 1/2 of the students didn't care about robotics. Of my student population, about 1/2 of the ones that cared about robotics could grasp simple concepts and use what others had developed to do things with robots. Of these about 2/5 I could see doing something with robotics because they really grasp what was happening. So, from my experience, about 1 in 10 people could have a potential to be successful at understanding robotics. There is a pretty high likelihood that this person doesn't have the drive to learn new things. In my work history with people who are in technical professional careers, I have seen a shift from people having general knowledge about a lot of topics to very specific knowledge. People are not willing to take it upon themselves to dig into things that are outside of their comfort zone as a rule. Family and other things get in the way along with other responsibilities. I would say that in my 20+ years as an IT professional, working with thousands of different people in the same field, there are only about 100 that I would say had a desire to step outside of this comfort zone and learn new things. If we take this and the number of people who would have the potential of handling this wide range of disciplines we are to 1. About 1% of the population in an advanced culture with more technology available to them than anywhere else in the world would have the desire and capability to build robots. I would say that I have never met anyone who didn't have some shortcoming in one or more of the areas mentioned above though...

With that said, it really comes down to how much time and energy someone is willing to put into learning everyday. This is not a hobby that will simply give its answers to you. There is a lot of scratching and clawing for answers. If you are not willing to fail repeatedly while scratching and clawing, this isn't for you. Buy something that someone else has built and live with its shortcomings. Be content with not having a robot and spend your time and money in different areas.

I once worked with someone who was the best teacher I had ever known. People would bring him issues and he would simply send them a google link or send them a simple example of exactly what they were asking for. He was a 21 years old programmer and very smart. He would hardly ever ask questions to people because when he needed an answer he would dig and learn until he found it. If he did ask, it was more of a "give me a general idea of how this works" type of question. It takes this kind of determination to self educate to be successful in robotics.

Don't get me wrong, ask questions and do everything possible to understand the answer given, then take this and dig deeper into the answer to learn more.

Just my 2 cents. Feel free to add. I just had to get it out of my mind...

#2

Some very good points there, making a very interesting read. My love for robotics ended up in giving me the skills to be an award winning Toy inventor, I just signed off my 64th license. Without robotics in my life I would still probably now be an electrician as I started out. There is nothing wrong in being an electrician (a very good trade), but I would never have made as much money!

Tony

#3

I'll read through it all properly later (if I get chance).

The simple answer is No. Hobby robotics are not for everyone. Even a love for robotics as Tony mentions is not enough. There are some examples of this in the forum. Without the knowledge, the understanding but most importantly, the ability to learn and understand, hobby robotics will largely be beyond your grasp.

EZ-Robot makes a stepping stone to hobby robotics. However not everyone can learn, develop, grow, understand etc. EZ-Robots (Six, JD etc.) can be some serious tools or can be toys depending on the user.

I made a comment yesterday. If someone is unable to comprehend the basics or unable to grasp a simple understanding of how these "off the shelf" products (EZ-Robot, Nao etc.) work and constantly needs spoon feeding the solutions then hobby robotics is certainly not for them.

Me, personally... I had zero experience, zero knowledge of robotics. I had a love of robots since I was young. I had a desire for the Omnibot since I was about 4. That lead me to finding EZ-Robot which was a "gateway drug" to bigger and better things some 30 years later. I had the desire to learn, the ability to soak up information like a sponge, the tools to find the information, those lead me to eventually have the knowledge required to progress and combine my previous knowledge of programming, AI, engineering etc. with the new-found knowledge of robotics, logic controllers etc. ultimately leading to the improved development and advancement of Jarvis (from a voice in my house to a physical presence).

Just a desire and spoon fed answers would not have lead to anything near what Jarvis has become in the last few years.

#4

@CochranRobotics

Quote:

"Burning bridges is not something that I take lightly at all, but I have had to burn a few in my day."



David,
Sometimes you get the best light from the burning bridge. Smile
I liked your post and agree that it is not for everyone. I will admit, that for me, it is pretty much an obsession. At my age (54) it is becoming a mid-life crisis. Grin
I got hooked on robots while watching old science fiction movies. Especially the movies Forbidden Planet with Robby the Robot and the TV series Lost in Space with B9 Robot. But, what really triggered me into building them was watching my brother while he was drawing a picture of a robot arm with gears and springs. Something just seemed to "click". I have been obsessed with them since. That was 47 years ago. *eek* Back then I had all the time in the world and no money. Now I have the money but hardly any time, or at least not as much as I would like. Such is life....

.......and yet I plod ahead.....grimly determined to build the perfect robot. It comforts me....keeps me sane....makes me learn....sharpens my skills.

EZ-Robot has now given me the tools to make that dream come true. Thank you DJ and the EZ-Robot Team.

The ever increasing urge to further my knowledge of building robots has led me into good paying jobs. And @Toymaker, I am an Instrument/ Electrical Technician and the pay is good. Grin

#5

@David... awesome post man.... I am not on the same level as some of you guys, but I think I do ok... especially since I have zero formal education in most of the disciplines you mention in your post... One could argue that if you are happy with what you design, build and program then robotics is for you no matter what level you are at...

Saying that and partially contradicting myself... I agree with what @Rich said. There are a few individuals that continually struggle and don't seem to be getting much satisfaction from what they call their passion......

#6

I feel if someone takes on robotics as a hobby, it should bring them a level of satisfaction and enjoyment. Like with any hobby there needs to be challenges, which can be frustrating, or annoying, but makes you learn skills you never had before. This drives you to take on larger challenges and learn even more. The frustration is the way some learn, the challenge, teaches others.

If they are still here complaining, their passion is making them learn in spite of themselves. To get to their goals, requires work. It does get served on a silver platter.

Ron R

#7

@David.

Really great post, and made for good reading. Nicely written. Me personally, I'm one of them people who has a general knowledge about a lot of topics rather than knowing a lot about one particular subject, and I found this helped me when I stared out in robotics not all that long ago. From knowing a bit about metalwork and woodwork, painting, electronics, practical design, computer literacy... the list goes on, and knowing a modest amount of each subject really helped me out.

I'm sure we all have had it at some point, where family, friends or colleagues look at our robots and say "wow, cool. And you built that yourself?", then you show them the inner workings so to speak then you get the "how do you know where all of the wires go" or "how do you know how to connect everything up" and the final comment of "I could never do that.". I've always been a tinkerer ever since I was a kid, taking things apart, seeing how it works, re-assembling things (hopefully with no left over pieces "ah, it won't need that bit"Winky, and have always been the "go to" guy for setting up equipment or fixing things even as a kid which gave me a great start in electronics. I never learnt very much at school, never really read user manuals unless I needed too because of my dyslexia, but it never stopped me and I fumbled my way through working out how something works as I enjoy that approach, and also applying this to every day life. And this mindset and way of doing things I've had has greatly with my passion of robotics.

Of cause, EZ-Robot has been a massive help in realising my passion because programming is a weak point for me, but it's like David said, you have to be prepared to learn new things and not give up after stumbling at the first hurdle, or indeed the second, third or fourth hurdles. I did jump in at the deep end building K-9 as it was only going to be an R/C controlled bot with a Bluetooth speaker connected to my phone. That's when I stumbled upon EZ-Robot almost 2 years ago now, and this lucky find had managed to give me a new lease on life regarding tinkering, as it was something I had not done for a while so it was good to get the brain working again with something I love.

I love new changes in tech and like to try new things out, so I guess that's why I'm suited to being in the "robot club". I don't mind getting stuck in, making mistakes, adapting to changes, making mistakes (yes, I said that twice Winky), and learning as much as I can in something I'm interested in. There is obviously still so much I don't know with this discipline, and my EZ-Script knowledge still has a long way to go, but I think I've done okay so far... and still enjoying the journey, but I'd still like to do better. There really are some very skilled people in this forum, and sometimes find myself being a little envious of the skills some of you guys have, but I have nothing but the upmost respect for these same people, some of which gave helped me in more ways than you can imagine.

And now I'm teaching my nephew and niece basic robotics... and here's the point that David started. The both like robots, but when building something, my nephew has a short attention span and gets bored and frustrated quickly sometimes. My niece on the other hand, takes her time, asks questions and wants to understand the answers, works her way around a problem, and does not give up until she does. When the robot is built, my nephew wants to play with it, and my niece will play with it for a while... and wants to build another one.

Yes, hobby robotics certainly is not for everyone, and as David said, it really only amounts to a small number of the planets population, but the way technology and robotics in particular is evolving, maybe that number of our future generation will grow sooner than we think, and not just for hobbyists.

Great subject David, as well as the input from everyone else. Very enjoyable to read. I hope you don't mind me sharing my thoughts and experiences. I did ramble on a bit, lol.

Steve. Smile

#8

david cohran

i totally agree,but sometimes the heart is bigger then the brain.
no wonder there's is nothing in belgium.
i notest alot off problems when downloading robot programs.
missing commands,connection errors.also bad tutorials or incomplete.
am not talking about here.i do this about 6 years,for me i learn alot,
but its axcully very little for what is out there.i learn to know what goes,
in a web page ones i seen it,but i dont understand it.
i think if your heart is bigger then your brain,DO IT els you better die.
you wil never get satifaction from something els if you like robots.
i saw today for the first time a robot site that has no page to fill in a user name,
and the web page ask for it,strange.so david sounds to you averyone chould have that knowledge before starting building robots.then the robot sites has to stop,
by saying its for averyone and easy.dont get me wrong am not mad or something.if thats thru there will be a lot less robots sold.

RR

i agree with you to,am strugling all day long.still cant let it be.
got a strange experiants today,on a robot site they call sd card an usb stick,
in there tutorial,it took me an hour to figur out what they mean.but found it.

so my question would be,do we as a total forum are willing to help someone,
with his robot as much as needed,or do we say figur it out yourself,
with a risk of that he/che breaks his robot.


ps richard r my appolegies for being rude last days.
i will make one promise to you al,i never wil post or anwer questions to help others.due i do not have the knowledge.

#9

Quote:

i will make one promise to you al,i never wil post or anwer questions to help others.due i do not have the knowledge


Patrick, it is fine for you to answer when you know the answer. What frustrates some of us (Richard shows his frustration, I just bite my tongue) is when you take a guess and don't really know so it just confuses the person asking the question. You gave me great advise about power cable extenders just recently that I really appreciated.

Alan

#10

alan

thats why the promise.i will post like example the wire only.