Long before David Bowie voiced his timeless classic about the starman waiting in the sky, men have dreamt of exploring the universe and unveiling its mysteries.
But not everyone is as lucky as Matt Damon, i.e., The Martian. Often it is logistically impossible to send an entire human being to Mars to collect information.
No need to lose heart yet. Even if you cannot go to Mars or become an astronaut for NASA, you can still make your own Mars Rover right here in Dhaka, if you just know where to look.
But why make one?
What is in it for you apart from the joy of creation? I talked to some of the most experienced individuals to get that answer.
The first person was from the BRACU Mongol-Tori team. BRACU Mongoltori ranked 2nd last year in the University Rover Challenge 2020 and also qualified to the final stage of URC 2021. Other than that, they have won many accolades in numerous competitions like the National ICT Awards, Indian Rover Challenge and so on.
Just in the past week, BUET Interplanetar and BRACU Mongol-Tori made it into the final stages of the University Rover Challenge, an international robotics competition that also featured globally reputed universities like Stanford University, Cornell University, Monash University and so on.
Ashik Adnan is the Control and Software Team Lead at the BRACU Mongol-Tori. Here is what he had to say.
"Today's world is getting more and more dependent on automation at a rapid rate. From home to the industry, everywhere we are getting automated.
Automation allows us to enhance efficiency, productivity, accuracy, consistency and so on. To gain an edge over the competition during the ongoing 4th Industrial Revolution, we have to be familiar with if not master the field of automation."
Another person I reached out to was Rusab Sarmun, an undergraduate student at the Department of EEE at the University of Dhaka as well as an avid robotics enthusiast. Rusab also thinks that the global economy is gearing towards automation and there could not be a better time to learn the art of robotics. But he had more to add.
"Robotics is a creative multidisciplinary field where there is plenty of room for innovation. It is a great field for the creative minds out there," said Rusab gleefully.
Apart from a secure future, there's also a lot of accolades to be won. Just in the past week, BUET Interplanetar and BRACU Mongol-Tori made it into the final stages of the University Rover Challenge, an international robotics competition that also featured globally reputed universities like Stanford University, Cornell University, Monash University and so on.
Where to start?
You have learnt the importance of learning more about robotics, the question remains how you can begin your journey of making a robot.
Making line following robots can be a gateway for amateur robotics enthusiasts.
But it is not easy. Making a robot is not something you get right away, rather, it requires a passion for the field, dedication, willpower and consistency of effort.
Apart from the subjective factors, you also need to acquire some basic knowledge of computer hardware and software.
The initial steps in robotics constitute working on Arduino boards. It is a beginner-friendly interface to get into the world of microcontrollers.
But how do you get acquainted with Arduino boards? Well, the prerequisites of learning Arduino are, basic programming knowledge of C/C++ and a basic understanding of electricity (Ohm's law, what the basic components of circuits are)
"Firstly, one has to be familiar with different microcontrollers and microprocessor development boards, and have to learn some programming languages such as C, C++, Python, Arduino, etc. Moreover, PCB designing and basic knowledge of electronics and power systems are important for developing a robot. Furthermore, basic 3D CAD modelling skill is required for which one can use Solidworks or Fusion 360 to get started.", Ashik Adnan replied when asked about the initial skills required to make a robot.
To gain a basic understanding of this software, you can take online or offline courses at local organisations like Creative IT Institute, Robotics BD, Stem On and so on. There are some online courses from foreign sources as well. For example, Learn Robotics, Lynda, Coursera, Udemy, EdX, FutureLearn, etc. You can even apply for financial aid at some of these websites through which you can take these courses for free.
What parts do you need?
Once you have familiarised yourself with the basics of robotics, you need to procure the parts needed to actually make one. While most people think that these parts are extremely expensive, you can work pretty well with the parts that are locally available and not burn a hole in your pockets.
"The parts that are usually available are cheap replicas of very expensive products. The cheap replicas fair well enough and provide more value considering the price. So, for prototyping beginner-grade projects, one does not need authentic sensors," said Rusab in that regard.
To make a robot you generally need different types of components depending on the robot. Some basic components are Arduino boards, motor driver, jumper wire, DC gear motors, various types of sensors, charger, relay, buck, Raspberry Pi, computers, cameras, communication devices, communication router and antennas, control devices, soldering iron and so on. Also, to make the chassis you may need aluminium, SS plates, PVC boards, etc. If you are making a rover, sometimes you may need wheels for rover movement as well. Finally, a PCB board is required to manage the whole system.
Where can you find these parts?
You can find these parts both online and offline. For the online shop, we can find it on TechshopBD.com, All Mart BD, Microtechbd, Robotech shop BD and so on. For offline shopping, you can find most of these components at Patuatuli and Nawabpur. But how much would it cost to procure the parts required to make a line following robot? We asked Adnan.
He said, "We have to source mechanical parts from Dholaikhal and sometimes need to buy some parts from outside of the country. To buy the basic component for a line following robot one needs approximately Tk2500 and for the advanced component, it may vary depending on the type of the robot."
But such cheap products often come with a catch. The buyers need to be very careful while buying the components because various types of components have various qualities.
"Sometimes, buyers may get cheated by the seller while buying low-quality products. So buyers should get a clear knowledge about the components they want by consulting someone beforehand who has vast knowledge in this field."