“Build a weatherproof outdoor rover for less than $500 with a Raspberry Pi and Viam.
Approaching robotics can be daunting. Many of us who have tried have ended up with empty wallets, life to catch up on, and spare parts in our closets. Some of us have had some success starting with robotic kits or learning robots. You know - the ones that are fairly easy to get up and running, but ultimately are expensive toys? In my humble opinion, these robots are somewhat missing the point: people want to create robots thatdo real things, that solve real-life problems. What to do? Well, you can certainly purchase a very capable outdoor robotic rover for upwards of 12 thousand dollars. It will still be hard to learn how to expand and program it, but it’s at least capable, right?
Fortunately I work at Viam, where we are building a platform that makes robotics and robotic automation approachable, and therefore much easier to build useful robots. Now, when I am an employee at any company one of the most important things is that I truly believe in the product. Therefore, I challenged myself with the following proof: “Can I build a weatherproof, outdoor rover that is capable of doing useful things for under $500?”
Some of the equipment listed here is optional. For example, you might not need a night-vision camera if you won’t operate it at night and you will not need a solar panel and charge controller if you plan on using your rover occasionally and charging it in-between.
- Raspberry Pi 3B or 4B with microSD card
- Weatherproof plastic case: This is the key to protecting your electronics and holding the robot together. Make sure it is a thick, strong plastic and can fit the solar panel mounted on top. Finally, get one with adjustable foam inside - this is very handy for cushioning your electronic components.
- Night vision camera: Night vision is optional, but a webcam of some sort is highly recommended.
- 12V Battery: Lots of options here - some motors might run better on 24V. You can use a battery with less storage if you don’t plan to run it continuously.
- Brushless hub motor wheels: x2 Better yet - source them from a used hoverboard (this is what I did, sorry son).
- USB Gmouse GPS module: optional
- Solar charge controller: optional
- 25w Solar panel: optional
- 12V to 5V DC USB Type-C Right Angle Step-Down Power Converter: To power the Pi from a 12V battery.
- Brushless motor controller: x2
- Caster wheel: x2
- Galvanized nuts/bolts, water sealing epoxy or caulk, washers, misc wires, brackets, etc.: Bolts are for mounting your hub motors and other components. I used a bracket I had lying in my basement plus some brackets/rails from my kids’ erector set to mount the solar panel.
You’ll also need some basic tools:
- Drill bits
- Socket or combination wrenches
- Hack saw
- Soldering iron and solder”