MapBot : An experiment in robotic mapping

MapBot : An experiment in robotic mapping

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MapBot : An experiment in robotic mapping

Today Robots are often used to explore dangerous
places where humans cannot go. However, what if there was a
more easily available robot that could be used to explore
places here on earth? This project is an attempt to build a
very simple version of such a robot: a robot that follows a
line, then creates a graph of the line on a computer.
Exercises I did early in COSMOS gave me the
backing I needed to attempt such an undertaking. I used
basic line-following programs as the base, with a recording
element thrown in. A C program was written to run on the
computer and turn the data the robot collects into a graph.
It took a lot of tweaking, but eventually I got a
decently accurate representation of the line. Sadly,
MapBot 2
though, I learned that if I want to graph another line, I
would have to change the program all over again.
With a little more work, I believe I could fix that,
and the other problems plaguing this program as it stands.
Also, I still believe that a personal MapBot is a viable
idea, though I learned that it would require a lot of work.
MapBot 3
There has always been a human drive to explore, to find out
more about the world. Columbus sailed to America, and Cook to
Australia, each driven by the promise of new uncharted
territory. Recently this task of exploring new frontiers has
been turned over to robots, as robots can explore locales that
humans cannot. Robots have explored volcanoes, the planets in
our solar system, and the deep sea—locations no person could
survive. So far robots have been limited to exploring just such
locations, those available exclusively to them, but I believe
that there are earthly applications for exploring robots.
Imagine, if you will, an inexpensive mapping robot. It
operates very simply: simply set it down somewhere in the
desired area, give it a set of bounds, and leave. The robot will
send live data from the terrain to the user, creating a realtime
map of the area. This map will be based on whatever data
the robots sensors have collected; with add-ons, this could be
anything from soil composition to topographic data. And when
mapping is complete, the user simply returns to the robot and
picks it up. Such a robot would be useful to many professions.
Cartographers could create online maps that changed as the
planet did. Field scientists could use them to take readings
over a large swathe of terrain without taking any of their own
time. With a camera attached, they could make a 3-dimensional

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MapBot 4
graph of an area or structure, such as the ruins of the Coliseum
in Rome.
Sadly, this robot does not yet exist. My project, however,
could be seen as a point on the way to such an objective, for my
robot will map a line onto a computer. It will do this by first
following the line, recording information about that as it goes.
Then that information will be uploaded to a computer, where
another program will turn that data into a map of the robots
From the start of COSMOS Professor Dad-del gave me exercises
that refined my coding and building. These were the first steps
toward making this project, for it was for one of them exercises
that I built the chassis that I used for my final project and
wrote the program that I used as the base for my robot code.
(See Diagrams and Code) The focus of this project also underwent
a great deal of refinement. The original idea was to have a
robot follow a line, then retrace the line on a piece of paper.
I built a pen chassis for the back of the robot, to lift a pen
onto and off of the paper. This used a version of the linefollowing
program that swept back and forth when it lost the
line. My thought was that with this program I would only need to
store one set of variables—the time it had spend doing each
MapBot 5
task—because the way the program was designed it would alternate
between going straight and sweeping, eliminating the need for a
variable to tell which direction it was going. My original
attempt at the redrawing robot used an alphabet function to turn
a number into a variable, which would then be used to store the
time. This was very bulky, using somewhere in the area of four
hundred lines of code. All this code slowed the robot down too
much and prevented it from accurately recording data. Then one
of the helpers for the robot class, Chajng Ho, came up with a
better solution: arrays. Arrays are basically two-dimensional
variables—if you think of a variable as a box to store a value
in, an array is a line of boxes with one name, called by column.
Using arrays, I was able to cut the program in half, and also
make it much more accurate. After some debugging, my robot
could follow the line very well—with one problem. Whenever the
robot left the line just slightly, immediately turning back onto
it, the replay of that turn would be exaggerated into a much
larger turn. In addition to that, the extra turn time was stolen
from the other values, leading to very distorted line. I spent
several days working on this before I decided that the problem
was in the way I wrote the program. I was telling the RCX to run
two intensive tasks simultaneously, which it couldn’t do.
Therefore, in the replay, the robot would turn for a minimum
time, even if it was supposed to stop long ago. As I could not
MapBot 6
see any way around this problem, I decided to try a new way of
I had been interested in datalogs for a while, so I decided
to try using them to create a graph of .
Datalogging is a way for the robot to store
information that the computer can then look at
later. For this purpose I would need a simpler
line-following program, because I needed to turn
the time spent turning into the number of
degrees turned, and that would be exceptionally
difficult with a sweeping robot. So I modified
the program to store information in a datalog.
This took a bit of time, but when it was done I
knew the program was correct .(See Code) Then
came the difficult part: turning these hundreds of numbers into
a line. I this took a little longer. It was a while before I got
a C program that worked, and then it took quite a while to tweak
it so that an accurate
representation of the line was
Of the many times I tried to
MapBot 7
graph a line, only a few were correct. Presented are some of the
graphs I did, both good and bad. To the right is one of the
stranger ones. I deleted a zero in my C program and suddenly
this appeared, which shows the difference a small change can
make. The first graph on this page is a more normal erroneous
graph. Is this graph, the robot is going down and to the left of
the starting position (0, 0).
This was caused by too much
degree time and not enough
emphasis on turning left (the
left motor moves faster than the
right one, and I needed to
compensate for that). The final
graph on this page is the end
result of this project. Compare
it to the picture of the actual
The graph is of the ‘hook’
only, and the similarities are easily apparent. Sadly, this is
the only line that I graphed, because I discovered that
variation in the speed of the motors means that the program
needs to be fine-tuned for each and every run.
MapBot 8
Mapping a line was much harder than I thought it would be.
Most of the problems were caused by the inconstant speed of the
motors. If I were to redo this, I might use rotational sensors
to measure how far the robot was going, and then use that to
graph the line. I am satisfied with my final graph, but the need
to tweak the program each time is a problem that would need to
fixed before any commercial robot would be feasible. Despite
these issues, though, I believe that a personal mapping robot is
a feasible project, if enough time is spent on it. Using non-
Lego bots might also help.
MapBot 9

Baum, Dave(2004). NQC Programmer’s Guide,
Version 2.3 rl.
Baum, Dave (2003). Definitive Guide to LEGO
MINDSTORMS, Second Edition. New York: Apress.
MapBot 10
Robot Code:
// Nedward's MaoBot
// sensors
#define lefttouch SENSOR_1
#define righttouch SENSOR_3
#define eye SENSOR_2
// motors
#define left OUT_A
#define right OUT_C
#define both OUT_C+OUT_A
// constants
#define revtime 50
#define spintime 70
#define events 11
int toodark, toobright, setdir, nset, time2, dir, time, n=0;
int lastdir, nin=0, nout;
void setup()
SetPower(both, 4);
int delta = (toobright-toodark)/3;
void play()
// configure the sensor
SetSensor(lefttouch, SENSOR_TOUCH);
SetSensor(righttouch, SENSOR_TOUCH);
SetSensor(eye, SENSOR_LIGHT);
until (righttouch==1);
setup ();
// do this forever
SetUserDisplay(time2, -2);
if (eye<= toodark)
if (dir!=1)
MapBot 11
else if (eye>=toobright)
if (dir!=3)
if (dir!=2)
if (lastdir!=dir)
task main()
play ();
Computer Code:
int main(void)
int timed, counter, n, j, events;
double angle, x, y, degreetime, dt;
FILE * fileout;
FILE * filein;
filein=fopen("datalogold2.dat", "r");
printf ("\nEnter events: ");
scanf ("%i", &events);
int dir[events], time[events];
for (counter=0; counter MapBot 12
fscanf(filein, "%i", &dir[counter]);
fscanf(filein, "%i", &time[counter]);
fprintf(fileout,"\n%lf %lf", x, y);
for (n=0; n<(events/dt); n++)
if (timed==(1/dt))
if (dir[j]==2)
else if (dir[j]==1)
else if (dir[j]==3)
fprintf(fileout,"\n%lf %lf",x, y);
printf ("\n\n");
return 0;
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