Tips And Tricks To Set You Apart From The Tech Crowd (Part 1)

3/31/2013 9:20:26 AM

There was a time when owning a smartphone was all it took to set yourself apart as a geek. But the world has changed. Gadgets have changed. With an Android or iPhone in almost every pocket you need to work harder to elevate yourself to a more advanced level of supreme geekiness that part-timers just can't reach. Here are over 40 tips, tricks and hacks to ensure you're never outdone when it comes to things to make, do or know about gadgets, tech and geek culture.


We don't just own an arsenal of gadgets, they should be able to hack, modify and utilize their tech to level-up their life...

Darwin-OP Deluxe Edition

Website: www.robosavvy.com

Darwin-OP Deluxe Edition

Darwin-OP Deluxe Edition

This 18in tall, open-source humanoid comes packed with sensors and party tricks such as ‘soccer mode'. But to learn how to build your own, try the Robo-projects overleaf...

Make robots

For the geek who loves to build things there are few bigger thrills than making your own RoBo-buddy. Some of the basics begin here.

The act of pulling disparate parts together to create something that is both unique and, ideally, able to fetch a beer holds a real allure. While the occasional Lego Architecture project is diverting, the ultimate aim is nearly always to build a robot. Sci-fi visions of bleepy humanoids leave many dreaming of building a personal R2D2, but projects like that represent a small proportion of the homebrew robot scene.

The most obvious scene of a robot in use is a robotic arm. It can play chess, using a system of sensors to work out where the pieces are. Even though you have played computer chess before, there is something captivating about this thinking machine and its ability to interact with the real world via its arcane mechanics.

In the early days it was tough to find sensors, controllers and motors, but we're now on the cusp of a golden age for robot hobbyists. According to the International Federation of Robotics, there are about 200 companies registered as robot manufacturers, but tens of thousands of companies that manufacture robot parts and components. This year even saw the arrival of the InMoov, a robot hand you can download fromthingiverse.com and 3D print.

Of course, RoBo-projects often demand soldering, tinkering with servos and a spot of coding, but there are easier options for the beginner. You can take a crash course in microcontrollers and electronics by using kits such as the Qu-Bot (robokits.com) - but the novice-friendly projects we've included below will offer a grounding without getting you knee-deep in electronics.

With the robot scene today feeling a little like the homebrew computing revolution of the 1980s, this is the perfect time to build your ticket to geek cred and Steve Wozniak notoriety!

Entry level: 6-in-1 Solar Kit

Website: www.red5.com

6-in-1 Solar Kit

6-in-1 Solar Kit

This entry-level kit isn't what we'd call a classic robot (it has no brains at all), but it does provide a valuable insight into the basics of how a moving machine works. The kit provides a power source (a solar cell that generates a tiny amperage of about 3V, depending on the light) and a motor for bestowing physical movements on your creation. Although these parts are connected in the same way each time, the motor can be hooked up to a variety of things to make ‘robots' that behave differently. Give it some wheels to make a car, or attach some legs and the motor will vibrate and shake your robot ‘dog' along. Not exactly a personal K-9, but it's a decent start all the same.

Step up:  Velleman Robotic Arm Kit with USB

Website: www.maplin.com

Velleman Robotic Arm Kit with USB

Velleman Robotic Arm Kit with USB

Proper' robots require a brain to function, but such machines can be a little pricey. A good halfway house, then, is a robot you can attach to your laptop or computer to provide the thinking. This kit is well designed and you'll end up with a very useable robot arm. It isn't for those who are afraid of using a screwdriver and takes two or three hours to build, but once completed it's the master of all it can reach. A handy USB interface attaches it to your computer (Windows only), and some basic but serviceable software will see you through getting it to do things. If you want a challenge, try programming it to complete a ‘towers of Hanoi' puzzle.

Big brain: Lego Mindstorms NXT

Website: www.ebay.com

Lego Mindstorms NXT

Lego Mindstorms NXT

Mindstorms proves that Lego is no mere toy - geeks have built machines that solve Rubik's Cubes, sort laundry and draw pictures using it. The NXT 2.0 possesses three servo-driven motors, a light sensor, camera, two touch sensors and an ultrasonic rangefinder. It isn't enough to build a Cylon, but it's a start. The NXT brick houses an LCD screen and the microprocessor brain of your creations and connects to the sensors to make stuff happen, while configuring the robot is easy due to a visual programming language (Mac/PC) that lets you drag and drop commands into a useful sequence. In spite of being ‘just' a plastic toy, the NXT is as close as it gets to real robotics without having to mess around with electronics.

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