Kevin McAleer - Robotics expert

By Rob Zwetsloot. Posted

Friend of The MagPi Kevin McAleer is a master of robotics, wowing us nearly weekly with a new robot (or just a cool coat for his dog). He shows his process on his YouTube channel, a great resource for learning about robotics in itself.

Q: How did you start with robotics?

A: I started building robots with a single blinking LED on an Arduino, this quickly moved onto buzzing buzzers, moving servos, and detecting light with photosensors. Then I bought a 3D printer, and this changed everything: I was able to download 3D-printable robots and started to learn more about how to make them (it’s how came into being).

Q: What are some of your favourite robots?

A: My favourite robots are small, 3D-printable robots that you can build and modify yourself. These include OpenCat, OttoDIY, SMARS (obviously), and Danielle Boyer’s Scobots. I love Raspberry Pi Pico, Pico W, and full Raspberry Pi robots such as the Pimoroni Trilobot. All the robots I build use MicroPython, too, because its so easy to read and write.

Q: What are some great kits for starters?

A: The Trilobot is a great starter kit, and can utilise the Raspberry Pi Camera Module to detect objects.

I designed the BurgerBot for beginners; its easy to construct and runs on either a Pico or Pico W, with parts from Pimoroni. CuteBot from Elecfreaks (micro:bit-based robot). Kitronik Autonomous Robotics Platform for Pico.

Q: What are some things people tend to forget?

A: Start small, work on one problem at a time, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Robotics is a deep topic, and can be a bit overwhelming, but don’t give up! Look to your strengths in the three skill areas: mechanics, electronics, and programming. This will also help you understand where you need to develop your skills. (I’m still working on my electronic skills.)

Steps to make

01. Planning

Whether you’re building your first robot from scratch or gearing up for a Pi Wars contest, Kevin has this to say about robot planning: “What do you want to achieve? What should the robot do (and what are the bonus stretch goals)?”

02. Designing

“How will you make the robot do these things, what kit do you need, and what do you need to learn? Will you build this or buy it? I like to draw a sketch of the robot, and make a list of what it should do, in my robot lab notebook.”

03. Building

“Have a project box to keep all the bits together and understand that building is an iterative process – none of my robots are finished! Decide on what is good enough when building. Think about the parts you’ll need, the tools and materials you need, and time in your week when you can concentrate on building it.”

Kevin's projects

Spooky Scary Skeleton Robotics, 3D printing, sensors, spookiness

This Halloween decoration truly sends shivers down our spines.

PicoCat Robotics, 3D printing, servos, non-traditional locomotion (it walks)

This Pico-powered feline walks on its four legs using a series of servos, and also has an ultrasonic distance sensor so it can, feasibly, not bump into you.

Cubie-1 Robotics, 3D printing, ROS, Lidar

A little experimental robot that uses Robot Operating System (ROS) on a Raspberry Pi 4.

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