■ FIGURE 10. The Light Spider
cool toys. It was in those days that I
discovered a cure for the "new gear
blues" that continues to work for me
to this day.
Here's the trick: I would go back
and re-read the advertising literature
for the equipment that I already
owned. Reading through the lists of
capabilities, the marketing hype, and
the typical configurations of the stuff
I already had would in many cases
rekindle the excitement I felt when
I first opened the box!
Now with the Internet, it's
possible to pull up information,
specifications, and marketing
literature for just about any part or
device you have lying around. A
good place to start "prospecting" for
the gold you may already own (but
may have forgotten about) is one of
those junk boxes in the closet or
even hiding in plain view collecting
dust on a shelf (Figure 14). Punch a
few model numbers into Google and
see if you can remember why you
■ FIGURE 12. The PICAXE-08M —
an eight-pin chip that sports five
I/Os, three analog inputs and is
programmed in Basic.
■ FIGURE 11. The Aqualocator Robot Kit.
bought these things in the first place.
Sometimes we forget the excitement
that drove the original purchase, but
it can come back to you with a little
bit of reading.
NOW, WHY DIDN’T I
THINK OF THAT!?
■ FIGURE 13. The PICAXE eight-pin
proto kit from SparkFun Electronics.
You may find your searches lead
to websites with pictures and videos
of some new and interesting way to
combine or use the very devices you
already have. A couple of months
back, I was wanting to bring a project
to the Robot Group's weekly meeting
"Show and Tell" event. I did a few
searches on Google and found a
cool video blog where the Parallax
GPS and a BASIC Stamp II were
combined to make a rudimentary
GPS system (see Resources). I had
purchased a Parallax GPS unit a
while back for a Magellan robot I
was contemplating, and a quick
search through my microprocessor
box turned it up in its anti-static bag,
never used. A bit more digging
turned up a BASIC Stamp II, a Board
of Education, and a two line serial
LCD display (among other parts) just
sitting in a box. Inspired by the video,
I combined my pieces in a similar
way to recreate this unit. By the next
day, I had a simple GPS display
sitting on the dashboard of my car
as I headed to the meeting. Total
equipment cost: zero dollars.
After this success, I remembered
watching an episode of "Prototype
This!" on The Discovery Channel
where Joe Grand from Grand Design
Studios used a Stamp to join an RFID
reader to a speech synthesizer to
create a neat "restricted access"
system. After a bit of digging in my
junk boxes, I discovered I had all the
parts he used in that design. So, I
was able to make another complete
project using existing parts I already
owned, just combined in a way I
hadn't done before (Figure 15).
Another idea for zero cost
involves virtual robotics projects. I
went over this in-depth in the March
2008 issue of Nuts & Volts. It has
quite a bit of information about how to
experiment with robotic simulations
that cost nothing to download
and run on your computer.
As a subscriber to Nuts &
Volts, you are able to use the
on-line service to read back
issues for Nuts & Volts for
free! See the Resources
section for a link to the on-line edition of the magazine.
■ FIGURE 14. The junk bins in
my shop that contain the bits
and pieces collected over
three and a half decades of
electronics and robotics fun.