Since the advent of vacuum robots, designing programs for machines to conduct household chores has been an extremely popular challenge among home enthusiasts. Thanks to companies like iRobot, the average Joe can buy devices to automatically vacuum floors, mop floors, and more recently even mow the lawn. But there are still countless household tasks that can be automated in similar ways. With winter around the corner why not team up with a hardware buddy, bust out your programming chops, and take a stab at a self-driving snow blower prototype? To get your creative juices flowing, we’ve put together some tips for getting started with tackling this project.
Forget The Brains – It’s All About Logic
With the availability of sensors and hardware for huge amounts of data collection and processing, it’s all to easy to fall into the temptation of designing a nearly intelligent algorithm to tackle anything that the weather throws at your prototype. Here’s some advice – learn from those who have come before you and leave it down to simple logic.
Tinkerers have been making robots that travel all over enclosed areas with basic switches, relays, and capacitors for years. Don’t overthink it. Sure, a human could clean up the snow more quickly than a robot programmed with basic logic, but that’s not the point. What you are trying to do is negate the need for human interaction in snow removal, rather than removing the snow as efficiently as possible. Keep this part simple and straight forward, your brain power is going to be needed for the more complex programming tasks that will follow.
Adapting To Different Types Of Snow
One of the biggest challenges you will face is programming the prototype to adapt to different types of snow. Snow can be wet, fluffy, a dusting, or a dumping. If you’ve ever used a snow blower in the past, then you know it can be quite easy to remove the snow from one storm and quite a headache to clean up after another. Your best bet is to start off on the right foot and choose a base model that is designed to handle the winter weather that is common to your region. After that, it’s going to come down to load and level sensors.
Load sensors might be best set up to measure the torque on the wheels, or the torque on the impeller – you’re creative design will come in useful here. The idea however is that you’ll want to throttle the speed of both the wheels and the impeller when the snow height and density changes. This will ensure that the robot is not only clearing the snow effectively, but also that it won’t get jammed up when it comes into heavy snow.
Additional Considerations – The Real Challenge
Designing a snow removal robot to clear snow from an enclosed, walled-off plot of land is one thing. What you’ll really need to think about (and what could really make for a great product!) is how the robot could work in the real world. How will the robot know when it’s reached the edge of the pavement, or the end of the driveway? How will it know when the snow is cleared so that it can return to the charging dock to prepare for the next storm? And perhaps most importantly, how is it going to know which direction is best to throw snow?
There are many factors that influence these design decisions, and they are probably the main roadblocks holding back the big companies from making snow-clearing robots today. If you can figure this out you’ll not only be a true prototyping champion, but you could stand to make some seriously big bucks and get into the game full time.