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On a roll: how to make a Raspberry Pi robot with wheels 

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If you have only recently heard of the little programmable computer known as the Raspberry Pi, one of your first thoughts at the time could have been to use the Pi to build a robot. However, you might not quite be able to make your own Jetsons-style robot servant just yet.

So, you could gently ease yourself into the hobby of building robots if you first focus on making a Pi-powered one that travels on wheels. Here’s a beginner-friendly guide to the task of assembling a wheeled robot that has a Raspberry Pi as its ‘brain’. 

What basics will you need?

A wheeled robot can, at first glance, look more like a miniature car than a nondescript machine. However, this helps to explain why making one can be a convenient project for novices — especially as the essential components for it can be relatively easy to source.

If you are intent on making a Raspberry Pi-powered robot that runs on wheels, you will need not only the Pi itself but also a motor driver board for connecting it to DC motors. These will spin the attached wheels and so get the robot moving as and when you want. 

Naturally, it wouldn’t be brilliant for a wheeled robot to have a long wire attached to it and trailing all the way to a wall socket. For this reason, you should also invest in a portable power source, like a power bank or battery pack.

There is a lot of scope for customisation with this robot 

Your robot will need a chassis that forms its main enclosure. It’s up to you whether to buy a chassis kit or instead make your own custom chassis, as you could do from 3D-printed or laser-cut parts or any other suitable materials.

You could even fashion a chassis out of cardboard, as this guide from the Raspberry Pi Foundation attests. The steps here include putting a design onto some A4 paper, cutting out that design and then wrapping it around — and gluing or taping it to — a cardboard tube.

If you anticipate your robot needing to traverse rough terrain, you could give the machine some tank-style caterpillar tracks or, if you would prefer a vibe closer to that of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, a rocker-bogie suspension system.

You could give your robot sensors, too

Of course, as your robot moves, it can take instruction from your own pre-programmed code. However, this device should also be able to react to its environment — and that’s where you can benefit from integrating an array of sensors.

Having an ultrasonic distance sensor — like one available to buy from The Pi Hut’s Maker Store — fitted to the robot will enable it to avoid simply running straight into obstacles.

Another idea is adding an IR sensor — which, when facing downward, can help the robot to follow a black line you would have previously placed on the floor for the exact purpose of aiding the robot’s navigation. MUO suggests also adding a camera for remote video viewing.

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