Rocky Masthead Image

What's this site all about?

I'm glad you asked. (No, really!)

The site was built to help document the designing and building of one particular robot, Rocky. "Rocky" is short for "Rock Quoll", a small native Australian marsupial with the most amazing rock-climbing abilities, something Rocky's designed to do too.

I've been designing, building, upgrading, redesigning, and rebuilding Rocky for nearly 11 years now, so I've collected a lot of information about finding parts and suppliers, designing circuits, manufacturing PCBs, finding helpful books and ideas, and even writing software to control Rocky. So I thought I'd put all that information together in one place - and let anyone else who wants come here and find some answers to common problems.

Things like how to properly use sensors, why they work and why they sometimes don't, things I've tried, answers others have helped me with, and even some things I've discovered myself.

In particular, I've tried to show the right, engineering way of putting together your own robot design, even from scratch if needed. Things like how to properly wire up sensors, where to buy components, design power supplies and as many tricks and tips as I know.

Rocky Ver 1.6.3

Rocky the rover - current version is 1.6.3

The latest version is 1.7.6 (2011)

If you have a particular area of interest, or if none of the information here helps you right away, or if you have ideas yourself that you'd like to offer that may help other enthusiasts, I'm more than happy to help out in any way, by getting your suggestions and ideas up here.

NEW! Our first few baby photos of Rocky are now available from the Photo Gallery link. We'll try and add more as soon as we can!

What does Rocky do?

Like his namesake, Rocky was designed to go anywhere and do anything, autonomously (in other words, all by himself.)

If that sounds a bit "airy-fairy", let's say instead that Rocky's designed to be able to travel all around the typical home and garden, without getting stuck, bogged, trapped, jammed, or lost. The idea is, Rocky's smart enough to figure out if something bad's happened, and get himself out of the jam all on his own. That's not a trivial thing to aim for, I can promise you!

Rocky's also designed to be able to run mazes and tracking tests, etc.

Rocky has to be able to (amongst other things) :

  • Travel (without losing traction) on any surface you'd find around the home, including :
    •  lino or tiles,
    • carpets,
    • wooden and parquetry floors,
    • and even outside, over :
      • Gravel or sand,
      • soil,
      • lawn grass,
      • concrete or pavers,
      • and over most obstructions, such as bricks, rocks, hoses and pipes
  • Climb up and down the average set of stairs or steps (with steps up to 7" high!)

At the same time, Rocky is expected to be able to keep track of distances traveled with a minimum of error. He also has to :

  • Not run into walls, furniture, small children, old people, fireplaces, expensive vases, or pets
  • Be able to automatically recharge whenever his battery begins to run low
  • Keep track of where he is, from kilometres to millimetres, and map the terrain.
  • And even "phone home" when he gets into a situation he can't get out of!

Rocky has to behave about as intelligently as a typical pet, in other words. You'd think that would be pretty easy, wouldn't you?

There's a lot of info here.

Yep. That's because designing and building a robot like Rocky isn't a trivial exercise. But not everyone wants or needs all that information - you might just want to find some reliable suppliers, or ideas for your own chassis or electronics, or even just a bit of an overview about what's needed if you're stuck for ideas.

To try and help make sense of it all, I've tried to separate out the various areas of technical design. This helps break the design down into the various areas all robot makers have to deal with all the time. Some of the information may be a bit technical, some may not be technical enough. But I've tried to include as much as possible.

This means areas like the traction system (such as motors, gears, wheels, and odometry), power (batteries, power supply, recharging), navigation (GPS, odometry, or pose states) and so on, all have a separate section especially for those functions. Wherever possible, I've tried to include links to related information. I've also taken the time to explain, where needed, how a decision made in one area can impact performance in another area.

In separate pages, you can find details about common online suppliers, PCB manufacturing, and software development ideas too.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

I'll also try not to lose sight of the main reason for building your own robot - it's supposed to be FUN. If you're not enjoying yourself, you won't build a great robot, full stop. So we won't forget to keep ideas as simple and practical as possible. At the same time, we'll try to keep an eye on how it all "hangs together", so you won't get lost in one area and get all frustrated and sad and stuff.

So don't forget to SMILE : you're building a robot!

I'm still learning...

I can't pretend that I'm anything but an enthusiastic designer without "super" maths skills or an unlimited budget. While I've been building Rocky (and he's nowhere near finished!), I've learned a huge amount about a vast array of subjects. From energy density to Kalman filters, positional accuracy to pose states, rubber compounds to power management. One of the great thing about robotics is the amount of information you'll be able to pull together to make it all work. You'll never have so much fun putting a puzzle together as building your very own robot!

But I'd also like to hear from you - what questions you might have, what ideas you're needing help with, or even just to hear about your own robot design.

So I'll be happy to host and post any pictures, schematics, or ideas you have. I'd be delighted to hear from you if you have any comments or questions about robots in general, or specific areas that you're interested in.

Please feel free to contact me at any time via the links at the bottom of the page (in the grey footer area), and I'll return your email as soon as I can!

Now, let's get on with the plans!