What's the next step, after Vex?

I’m just curious as to what the next step would be for someone that wanted to get deeper into more complex robotic systems. What is the middleground between Vex, and building you’re own bot from scratch?

Thanks!

It kind of depends on your inclinations and interests. I’m more of an electronics/computers guy so I tend to keep using Vex metal for the structure but add other electronics and sensors.

As for robotics systems, I think Lynxmotion has a very compelling line called “Servo Erector Set” or SES. It isn’t quite as foolproof as Vex, but you can build very complex bots without having to do much custom fabrication.

Cheers,

  • Dean

I think I am looking for what you’ve described, structure wise I am fine with using vex, but I am looking for more flexibility with sensors. (And a system that takes C Programming)

Thanks!

Well, your first stop would be the SparkFun website. Not only do they sell a wide variety of Vex-friendly sensors, they post schematics and source code for everything. They also have a thriving community and forum to help you if you get stuck or want to see what others are up to.

LynxMotion also sells a good variety of sensors, electronics, controllers, and motors - so make sure to check there too.

One of my favorite upgrades is the Arduino microcontroller (also sold at Sparkfun), which is on-par with the Vex v0.5 microcontroller in processing power. It is completely open, Mac-friendly (important to me), and has SPI & I2C ports accessible. If you want an Arduino variant that is directly compatible with the Vex 3-wire accessories, check out the Roboduino.

Also, the upcoming Vex microcontrollers do offer I2C, so that will open up stock Vex to a larger variety of add-on electronics.

Cheers,

  • Dean

Wow! Thank you for the info! So is the Arduino Controller compatible with RobotC or MPLAP? Does it take C? or Something else like PBasic?

Thanks!

Yes, though you may have to do a bit of work in software. Analog sensors like the light sensor and potentiometer can be wired to the Arduino’s analog inputs. It has digital inputs for switches, and has timer-capable inputs that can be used with the ultrasonic rangers. It has PWM outputs that are able to drive the vex motors & servos, as well as other R/C hobby servos.

It also has a “shield” design so you can stack additional PCBs on top. They cover everything from Video, bluetooth, XBee, USB, serial, motor drivers, displays, ethernet, to whatever you want to make (protoboard and screw-terminal shields are available)

What it doesn’t have is all the nice protections that the Vex microcontroller offers. Careless wiring or stray static can take out an Arduino, whereas the Vex microcontroller is very robust. On the other hand, a basic Arduino can be had for as little as US$19, so they are cheap enough to learn by making mistakes :wink:

Not that I know of. It is based on the very popular ATmega168 family, which is supported by a variety of (free) development environments. Also, Arduino has its own (free & cross-platform) programming environment and libraries that I’ve found to be very easy to use. If you are comfortable with MPLAB, you’ll have no trouble.

Cheers,

  • Dean

Thank you so so much for this info, this is pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

What would you recommend, for someone starting out with Arduino, to buy, other then the microcontroller?

I wish they has some sort of…beginners package, which included some sensors and basic structure, just to get started. It’s rather overwhelming to try and figure out what to buy, they have so much stuff =)

That is a great idea! You should post that as a product suggestion on the SparkFun forum.

I would start with a basic Arduino board, and get a big pack of their jumper wires (these are way better than just using bare wire, and you can use them to hook Arduino to Vex sensors). You’ll want a breadboard. Start by trying to read a button and blink an LED, then try to read a potentiometer on an analog port.

Cheers,

  • Dean

Dean,

Thanks! I found this:

Which I think will get me started, although I am a bit confused. This starter pack comes with Breadboard jumpers, which are male-to-male. the jumpers you linked are female-to-female.

What would the female-to-female be used for, given that the Arduino board has female connections on it?

Maybe they are used for different things? If you could just clarify, I would really appreciate it!

Thanks,

John

That is a great find! - This kit is exactly what I would recommend starting with.

The picture is misleading. The ones I linked were a mixture of both (50 M-M & 50 F-F).

I definitely use the M-M ones 90% of the time, but the F-F ones come in handy too. I use them mostly when connecting to other products that have a male header instead of female header. For instance, Vex sensors and motors all terminate in a male connector, so you can use the F-F cables like so:
[INDENT]Arduino … M-M … F-F … Vex Sensor/Motor[/INDENT]

You can also accomplish this by using a breadboard as a F-F coupler:
[INDENT]Arduino … M-M … BB … Vext Sensor/Motor[/INDENT]

You can also use the F-F ones as extenders which is handy when testing sensors that you want to move around freely:
[INDENT]Arduino … M-M … F-F … M-M … Sensor[/INDENT]

Now that you’ve brought this to my attention, it seems pretty clear that M-F jumpers would handle all these extra cases and would be generally more useful for Arduino prototyping than F-F.

I think you can get by just fine without the F-F jumpers. As long as you have a breadboard and M-M jumpers, you will be able to interface to Vex devices easily.

Cheers,

  • Dean

Great! thanks for clearing that up. Also, look what I just found:

I Should have looked harder!

I’m still happy with the other one because it comes with a battery holder, 9v power adapter, and he has some step-by-step tutorials for the kit.

Thanks again!

Huh - I didn’t even know they sold that. I guess it really was a good idea :wink:

Good luck with your experimentation. BTW, I’m also a member of the SparkFun forum under the name Quazar, so perhaps I’ll see you there.

Cheers,

  • Dean

Hey if you would like to see some of the possibilitys of an arduino/vex hybrid you can check out some of my youtube videos here.

This video is a tank that I made which runs off of the arduino instead of the vex microcontroller. It uses all vex parts except for the bluetooth module, arduino, batteries, and a few other tiny things.

This is the same tank but instead of being controlled from the computer it has been hooked up to a wii remote through a bluetooth connection!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4SVco970Ac

This is sort of related to vex but anyway here it is. I built a mount from vex parts to hold an airsoft gun which had a vex servo on the trigger. The brain of the whole thing was a computer and an arduino which controlled the lights & servos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQLoozZ1Qjc

You can check this video out as well, it is an arduino that I made on a breadboard which can also be soldered to a proto board from radioshack to create a custom arduino board tailored to your needs. It is made from all of the individual components no pre made boards!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY0kiJNI5oE

I have many other videos featuing vex stuff as well as arduino projects.

Here is my youtube page

http://www.youtube.com/halo2maniaccc

This video is unrelated to vex but it deals with using an arduino to control a stepper motor which you might like.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbgn3a_nOyw

Lots of videos right…

I hope this helps!!!

BTW If you need help after you get the stuff I can help you with any questions you may have about it.

Arduino definitely opens a world of new possibility have you seen some of the proto shields for it??? Why not make your robot update twitter feeds while your at it!!! There’s a shield for that lol](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbgn3a_nOyw)

This is the same tank but instead of being controlled from the computer it has been hooked up to a wii remote through a bluetooth connection!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4SVco970Ac

This is sort of related to vex but anyway here it is. I built a mount from vex parts to hold an airsoft gun which had a vex servo on the trigger. The brain of the whole thing was a computer and an arduino which controlled the lights & servos.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQLoozZ1Qjc

You can check this video out as well, it is an arduino that I made on a breadboard which can also be soldered to a proto board from radioshack to create a custom arduino board tailored to your needs. It is made from all of the individual components no pre made boards!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY0kiJNI5oE

I have many other videos featuing vex stuff as well as arduino projects.

Here is my youtube page

http://www.youtube.com/halo2maniaccc

This video is unrelated to vex but it deals with using an arduino to control a stepper motor which you might like.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbgn3a_nOyw

Lots of videos right…

I hope this helps!!!

BTW If you need help after you get the stuff I can help you with any questions you may have about it.

Arduino definitely opens a world of new possibility have you seen some of the proto shields for it??? Why not make your robot update twitter feeds while your at it!!! There’s a shield for that lol](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbgn3a_nOyw)

Haha Thanks for the videos! I’ll be sure to let you know if I run into any roadblock (which I will)

Thanks!

When you want to create “standalone”(projects without the Arduino board) projects you might want to get the raw AVR chip with the Arduino Bootloader here. robofreak has a tutorial on doing this.

You do know you can program the VEX controller in Microchip C, right? Full access to pretty much everything on the PIC.

As for flexibility with sensors… you’ve got lots of analog and digital I/O lines on the VEX if you choose to use them.

But the other stuff is good too, and it’s fun to try something different.

I do, however the vex is pretty limited in regards to sensors, compared to what you can do with an Adruino board. At least that’s what I’ve seen. I’m also interested in the electronics of building circuits, using resistors, etc.

Nothing against the arduinos, I think they are a great product and worthy of pursuit in their own right, but the VEX microcontroller is pretty powerful, too.

Sometimes when people look at it as part of a kit, they only see the kit sensors… but you can interface just about anything to it if you want. MAKE magazine seems to think so http://www.make-digital.com/make/vol06/?pg=70
and with one of these [http://ww1.microchip.com/downloads/en/devicedoc/39609b.pdf inside, you can see why.

Anyways, have fun with the arduino… but for those looking to take the next step, they might find the next step is sitting right in front of them waiting to be discovered.](http://ww1.microchip.com/downloads/en/devicedoc/39609b.pdf inside, you can see why.)

I have been using the new Microchip 32-Bit PIC32 MCU for some time on my own projects and found this new low cost Digilent Cerebot 32MX4 board that targets robotics applications. The PIC32 is a very fast 80 MHz MIPS processor that includes peripherals similar to the VEX Controller. Although it is a 3.3 Volt device, which makes it harder to develop DIY applications, the Cerebot 32MX4 provides access to PWM for DC motor and SERVO motor control along with many other features including I2C and SPI peripherals.

http://www.digilentinc.com/Products/Detail.cfm?NavPath=2,396,754&Prod=CEREBOT32MX4