Building a robot arm may seem daunting at first, but it is entirely doable by even non-computer science majors. The Lego MindStorm kit is more than capable of making a robotic arm. It comes with the Lego structural pieces, motors and the computer to run it all. The programming part is a little more complicated but the Lego program will walk you through the process and it has a cornucopia of online support.
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Draw the design in your head first. No matter how cool and perfect you think it is, you need to draw it out to establish proportions and what pieces you need, in addition to keeping you from forgetting it. Keep it simple as the more complex the design is, the more there is that can go wrong.
Build the arm. Keep it simple. Don't use intricate designs when simple beams and cross members will suffice. Also, keep the motor count to a minimum as the more articulation there is, the more programming is needed and the longer troubleshooting will take.
Open the MindStorm program in your computer with the arm's computer chip hooked up via USB. The programming specifics will differ depending upon your arm design, but the latest build of the MindStorm program has enhanced tutorials and walkthroughs to help.
Test and retest. Have the arm go through its full range of motion on all the axes. Try to pick up objects. Reprogram the arm until it can function flawlessly and then use this stable form to build on. Install more motors for greater articulation and put in sensors so the arm can react to objects. Use your imagination.
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