By John Blankenship
I taught electronics, engineering technology, and programming for 33 years before retiring to help create RobotBASIC with Samuel Mishal – easily the greatest programmer I have ever known. Our primary goal was to create a computer language that could get students excited about STEM subjects, long before STEM was a household word.
We wanted a language that was easy to use as a first language, yet powerful enough to handle real-word problems. A key point in our design was to build a language that could grow with the learner. It was essential that in the beginning, interesting programs could be written with a small subset of easy-to-use instructions that used a modified BASIC format. As a student’s skills and knowledge increased, more versatile commands could be introduced as needed. Finally, some C-style syntax could be freely mixed with the BASIC to help students transition to more complex, and cryptic, languages.
Our dream was to build a love for technology and to that end, RobotBASIC has been, and always will be FREE. There are no purchasing costs, no upgrade fees, and no site-licenses. The complete version of RobotBASIC is available for download directly from www.RobotBASIC.org. There is a simple agreement that generally forbids others from charging fees for distributing the language. Schools, for example, can freely utilize RobotBASIC internally as long as they direct students to our webpage to download their own personal copy for doing homework etc.
RobotBASIC contains an integrated Robot Simulator that allows schools to motivate students with robot programming without having to purchase any hardware. The simulated robot is a 2D rendering that looks deceivingly unsophisticated, yet it boasts far more sensors than many real robots. It has 9 perimeter proximity sensors, a turret-mounted ranger, an electronic compass, a beacon detector, 3 line sensors, a color detecting camera, battery monitoring, and a simple GPS. These capabilities allow the creation of very sophisticated projects for the classroom, but they also allow robot hobbyists to test ideas and algorithms in record time (see some of my articles in Servo Magazine). Figure 1 shows the output from a program that is making the simulated robot learn to autonomously follow the contours of a wall.
Initially, Samuel and I had no real plans for RobotBASIC to control real robots because we were fixated with motivating students without the need for purchasing hardware. Our design did provide for controlling real robots though, but we only expected the capability to be used by more sophisticated hobbyists. We quickly found that schools wanted real robots in their classrooms, but we also found that most teachers lack the skills and knowledge needed to build the required hardware.
To solve this problem I developed the RobotBASIC Robot Operating System (RROS). It is a small computer chip that contains not only the hardware interface for motors and sensors, but all the low-level (complicated) code needed for building a robot. In short, the RROS chip (available from RobotBASIC.org) allows robots to be built that can be controlled by the SAME programs used to control RobotBASIC’s simulated robot.
We started supplying robotic hardware such as the RB-9 shown in Figure 2, which has many of the sensors found on the simulation. Details of how to use the RROS to build a wide variety of robots using a wide variety of motors and sensors, can be found in the RROS User’s Manual (available in print from Amazon.com or as a free download from RobotBASIC.org).
Figure 3 shows a sophisticated robot called Arlo: The Robot You’ve Always Wanted. It is far more expensive and complicated to build than most schools and hobbyists want, but it does show just how powerful the RobotBASIC-RROS combination can be. A book by the same name is available to those wanting to build their own Arlo, or even for those that just want to understand how everything works. The point is that RobotBASIC is not just an educational language. It has nearly 900 commands and functions capable of many main-stream programming projects.
As mentioned earlier, schools can download the RROS manual for free, but we received so many requests for simple, step-by-step, instructions for building a RobotBASIC compatible robot that I wrote RobotBASIC Robot’s for Beginners which is shown in Figure 4 and available from Amazon.com. It explains in detail how to build very inexpensive robots that have less sensors than our RB-9, but enough to create many motivational projects (which are also discussed in the book).
Robotics News – 22nd October 2017