Archive for June, 2005

So what’s the big idea?

I’ve split the Andii project into two basic phases: Phase 1 – simple locomotion, remote control, and telemetry; Phase 2: autonomous operation, path finding, and obstacle avoidance. This post will focus on the details of Phase 1. I should mention that I’m still in Phase 1 and expect to be here awhile longer.

Phase 1
Putting all the parts together is pretty much a given. I bought a $3 piece of ABS plastic from a local surplus store: SkyCraft. (I”ve gotta plug these guys; their store is awesome for a robotics hobbyist.) This is definately not the final enclosure for all the electronics, but I wanted to get going and this was the quickest way. I cut the sheet in half, drilled holes for a bunch of stand-offs and for mounting it to the body posts of the E-Maxx, then mounted the VIA mini-ITX mainboard, the Acroname BrainStem, and a couple of battery packs to the first level. I intend to mount the GPS, the Wireless Ethernet adapter, and the camera assembly on a second level above the first, connecting the two levels with some longer stand-offs.

Here are a few images:

Level 1 Level 1 Level 1

I think the VIA M10000 is an excellent motherboard, particularly with the iTuner power supply. A 1GHz processor in a 17cmx17cm package — and the 4 USB ports are all USB 2.0. I actually get faster video through this machine than through my 3GHz laptop (really about the USB 2.0 ports). A quick install of Windows XP Pro to test out the hardware and I’m up-and-running. I started tinkering with Windows XP Embedded and got an image running on a second hard disk, but after Ghosting the image to the compact flash disk it hangs on boot. (That topic deserves a lengthy post on it’s own, so I’m gonna save that for a little later.)

So now with a basic development platform setup, I can get to what I find most interesting: the software. I’m going to devote several posts to each of the software components, but for now I’m just going to list off the pieces that I’ve started with:

  • A .NET Acroname BrainStem library
  • GPS.NET from StormSource Software
  • A video capture library using DirectX 9
  • A higher-level library to abstract away these lower-level details
  • A remote control and telemetry library

The BrainStem library is where I’ve made the most progress and is where I’ll pick up during the next post. This was a logical place to start because it’s there we gain basic locomotion.

Where credit is due

Before I continue, I wanted to thank the people and resources that have helped the progess of the Andii robotics project. Most of these folks have never heard of me, and might never read this, but I think it’s important to give credit where it’s due. I want to single out Jay Beavers and his Cylon Robot Project. His ideas have had a major influence on my work. Also, the guys at Acroname. I’m very happy with their BrainStem product. I think they are doing great things in the field and wish them great success! Likewise for the folks at Lynxmotion. Over time, I’m going to link to a number of other resources that might be helpful to other geeks of similar ilk.

Andii the navigating Robot…

… many other functions. (Ok, poor reference to The Dark Tower.) I started working on this project a couple of months ago. This is a prototype for a larger project whose purpose was inspired by DARPA’s Grand Challenge. I wanted to experiment with remote control, telemetry, autonomous operation, navigation, and obstacle avoidance. So I started looking for parts, software, and what others had done that was similar to what I had in mind. Here’s a list of the major components I started with:

Andii Parts

There are a number of ancillary parts, including:

I’m sure I’ve left some stuff out, but this is a good starting point. And I’ve been building a pretty good electronics bench over the years, and can’t stress enough the importance of tools and miscellaneous cables and components my wife insists are “junk”.


Hello! I’m Paul Varcholik.

I’m just your average geek, with many many hobbies. I built this site to share some information about a few of them.

I’m a software engineer for Electronic Arts – Tiburon. I work in the Tools department with a group of some of the brightest engineers I’ve ever had the privelage to work with. We’re developing some amazing technologies and I can’t wait until the gaming world gets their hands on next generation hardware like the Xbox 360 and PS3. I also teach classes at Seminole Community College. I’ve been at SCC since 2003 and taught at Valdosta Technical College for several semesters before moving to Florida. I absolutely love teaching — probably as much as I love coding. Since joining SCC I’ve taught .NET languages exculsively. Specifically, I’ve taught C# and Advanced C# classes and we’re trying to rollout a C# – Advanced Topics class for the Fall 2005 semester.

Most of the initial posts here are going to be about a robotics project I’ve been consumed by recently. If you have any comments you’d like to send to me directly, I can be reached at

Thanks for reading.