Robot Controller: Everything You Need to Know


The best way to describe a robot controller is that it’s like the brain of your robot. It tells all the parts how to work together, what movements to make, and when they should stop.

The control system for robots varies depending on what you are trying to do with them. Some systems are more complicated than others, but in general there are two main types of controllers: analog and digital. Analog controllers use electrical signals instead of programming code, while digital controllers use computer programs written in languages like C++ or Java. Analog controllers tend to be cheaper but also less reliable because they can’t always anticipate problems or adapt well if something goes wrong. Digital controllers can be expensive because they need high-end computers for which you have to pay a monthly fee, but they are more flexible and better at responding to unexpected problems.

An Overview

A plane flying in the air

You can buy a pre-made controller or build your own using a microcontroller, which is a small computer designed for controlling robots. You can also get one from an online electronics store or from another robot builder who is upgrading his design. Some robot competitions require specific types of controllers, so research what you need before buying.

The most important aspect to consider when choosing a controller for your robot is how much control you want over it. If you’re just starting out and trying to get your feet wet in robotics, then get an analog or beginner’s digital controller that will keep things relatively basic. If you’re more advanced and want your robot to be able to think for itself, then a more advanced controller will suit you better.

Above all else, it’s important that the controller fits the needs of what you plan on doing with your robot. Whatever controller you end up choosing should be one that you feel comfortable using and writing code for.

Analog Control System

A plane flying in the air

The most basic type of controller uses analog signals to tell motors how fast to spin or where to move. These are used in small robots that don’t have very complicated moves or tasks, so they are definitely an entry-level option for roboticists just beginning their journey into the world of robotics.

Digital Control System

A more advanced system that uses digital signals to guide the robot. These are generally more expensive than analog controllers because they require more complex computers (the controller itself) and, in most cases, a monthly fee for the software you need to write code. If you really want to get into robotics though, this is definitely the way to go, since it gives you the most control over what your robot does and is capable of.

Microcontroller (Arduino/Raspberry Pi)

A microcontroller (sometimes called a µC or uC for short) is used to send digital signals to motors or other parts of the robot that require them, such as sensors and actuators. They are small computer boards that you can buy pre-made or make yourself using a soldering iron, some electronic components (resistors, capacitors, etc.), and an Arduino board (or Raspberry Pi).

Arduino Board

The most common type of microcontroller used in robotics is the Arduino board because it’s easy to get and use. It’s also open-source, which means that people can build their own versions of the board and share them with others who want to do the same thing. All you need to get started is a basic knowledge of how computers work (how to install software, download code from websites such as Arduino.cc, etc.) and some patience with building and testing your first robot.

Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter
Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter