Week 1: Intros


We will introduce ourselves, discuss what the class is and what it is not, and start talking XYZ Robots.

Make Block Plotter


Let’s introduce ourselves, talk about our backgrounds, and discuss what we want to get from the class.  What are we most excited about?  What are we worried about?

What the Class Is

We will be designing and building robots.  But our robots will be constrained.  Most likely, we won’t be making walking, talking, or flying robots in this class.  Our bots will live in a contained space and probably do one specific job.

Initially, we will rely heavily on off-the-shelf CNC kits.  We will learn by assembling them.   We are creating robots that travel in a system.

There will be a lot of in class work sessions.

What I Expect

Work Hard, 14 weeks is not a long time to make functional machines.  There is no time to waste.  The harder you work, the more you get out of it.

Team Work, you will all be working in teams.  Be open to each other’s ideas.  Play to your strengths and your weaknesses.

Documentation.  Document early, document often.

Main Focus

Actuation – What will move our robots?  Steppers, servos, belts, lead screws, etc.

Control – How will we control our actuators?  Micro controllers, motor shields, CNC boards.

Communicate – How do we talk to our bots?  Serial, g-code, …

Dancing With Robots – How do people interact with our robots?  What do we do well, what do they do well?

Projects for the Semester

  • Assemble and operate a XY Plotter kit, Makeblock
  • Build cardboard gantries
  • Assemble stepper motor control boards
  • Create, fabricate, and control a unique XYZ robot

Bot of the Week

Every week we’ll look at an XYZ robot video.  Hopefully they will spark discussions and get the creative juices flowing.


Bot of the Week In Action

We will study machines we have direct access to.  Not necessarily for what they do, but for how they do it.  How do they actuate?  How many motors?  What are the control boards?  Power supplies?  Software?

Makeblock XY Plotter

What is a robot?

What is your definition?

X, Y, Z axes

We will be working within the Cartesian Coordinate System (3 axes).  Our XYZ Bots can be called Cartesian Robots or Gantry Robots.

X Axis: Left and Right

Y Axis: Front and Back

Z Axis: Up and Down

Typically, the distance traveled in the Z axis is much smaller than the X and Y.

Anatomy of our machines

Gantry – The gantry spans the X axis (left to right) and travels forward and back along the Y axis rails.

Carriage – The carriage travel left to right on the gantry and houses the Z axis

Head (Spindle) – The head is where the work is done.  It typically moves up and down along the Z axis.

Table (Wasteboard) – The table is the work zone.  Items and materials can be fastened to the table.  Those items and materials (even the table) can be manipulated by the head.

– via

Gantry Robot Advantages:

  • 3+ axis of movement of almost any length
  • Scalable
  • Gearbox and motor can be sized according to range of motion and speeds
  • Suitable for light to heavy / hanging loads
  • Flexible and efficient due to linear axes scalability
  • Inexpensive

Gantry Robot Disadvantages:

  • Cannot vary reach into or around obstructions
  • Linear slides belts rails are not easily sealed against the environment
  • Not freestanding: stand or frame or other mounting required


The Kit

Make Block Plotter
The Makeblock XY Plotter Kit is a drawing robot that can move a pen or other instrument to draw digital artwork on flat surface.  This kit consists of over 60 kinds of components from Makeblock, including beams, brackets, motors, etc. Here’s the picture of all the components. XY Plotter V2.0 can be controlled by 2 software, mDraw and Benbox.

Assembly Instructions

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Finally got the Makeblock XY Plotter working. #spiderman

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You, and your team, will assemble and get your Makeblock XY Plotter functional.  Everything is due Week 3, and you will be presenting in class.

Related Reading/Viewing

Makeblock XY Plotter Assembly Instructions (pdf)

A How-to in Homebrew Design, Fab, and Assembly with Structural Framing

CNC Build 2.0: CNC Router Parts