I have a subscription/membership to Instructables. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but Instructables.com is a website dedicated to Do It Yourselfers as Hobby and Craft enthusiasts. If you can envision something to make at home, chances are you can find it on this website along with step by step instructions on how to build it. Thus, one fine day I was perusing the digest they mail out each week and lo, what did I see? An instructable for something called the Medium Tank. Published by an author with the online handle of Chris The Carpenter, he turned out to be the proprietor of Rocket Brand Studios, a supplier for robot platform components, mostly made of laser cut plastic. But RBS also produces a couple of kits, one being the Medium Tank featured on Instructables, and it’s itty bitty brother, the Tiny Tank.
Of course, I bought one of each. I just can’t resist robot kits. See Rocket Brand Studios on the web.
The Tiny Tank is just too cute. Spanning all of three and a half inches in length, it’s the smallest robot kit I’ve run across. While you can buy only the components for a rolling platform, you can also buy complete kits which includes everything, even an Arduino (Nano, small) and motor controller (also small). Okay, Batteries Not Included. But everything else is. Rather than going on and on about the two tanks, which are essentially the same product with one being half the size of the other, I’ll simply embed the instructional video for making the Tiny Tank and give you a link to the Instructable that details the assembly of the Tiny and Medium Tanks.
After building one of each of my own, I have to say that the kits were complete, and it really helps to watch the assembly video above. It provides a lot of excellent clues that are more easily related to than by viewing the Instructables. The tanks both require a bit of patience during assembly. In spite of its larger size, the Medium Tank can present the need for manual finagling of the pieces to get them all properly lined up. They Tiny Tank definitely requires patience to get all of the parts properly aligned. They usually provide a rewarding little snap or tick noise as they seat properly, which is a handy thing. Make sure you heed the cautions in the instructions putting one or both of Chris’ tanks together.
It took me about two hours to assemble the Tiny Tank. It took me slightly less than that to assemble the Medium Tank, both of which I built in the same day. Both kits run about $80 for the rolling platform only versions and $120 for the complete kits. You’ll have to add shipping to those figures. The online store accepts PayPal, which means you can pay for it that way, or with most major credit cards.
Follow the instructions faithfully and you’ll end up with a decent robotic tank. Arduino code is available for download that will put the Tank(s) in autonomous mode. However, if you’d prefer, you can strap microcontrollers from the Stamp and Propeller families in addition to Arduino family members like the Pro, Duemilanove and the Uno. However, expect to supply your own code if you use a non-Arduino microcontroller. I saw no sign of downloadable code for platforms other than Arduino, though they might exist.
I was happy with my purchases and enjoyed the assembly. We’ll have to see what comes out of Rocket Brand Studios next. You can also get a number of other robotic parts from Rocket, including a clever “undershield” that incorporates a motor controller and a USB connector, eliminating the need for an FTDI cable and dongle for programming. By the way, complete kits also include a short USB cable for programming.