The Five Best Sites for Robot Partsand what they are good for..
Imagine how hard it would be to build a robot without the Internet. You would have to get parts from Radio Shack, surplus stores, and store for Radio Control hobbyists. It's hard to believe, but people used to do that. Now there are stores all over the Internet that fill every conceivable niche. You can find places dedicated to interests a lot more obscure than robots. So I have made a list of the best places to buy robot parts.
There are a lot of places that sell robot parts so I have picked out five that I would like to recommend. I have chosen these sitecs based on several criteria. First, they have a good selection of interesting parts or kits. Second, they seem to be somewhat picky about what they stock, they don't just sell every electronic gadget they can find. Third, they have good customer support, often in the form of a forum where you can ask questions. Three of the sites below have great forums for discussing robots. Finally, they each have some unique inventory that gives you a sense of the kind of robots they support. Each site is somewhat specialized, but not so specialized that you might not be interested in what they sell. For example, I buy a lot at Parallax.com. But you won't see them on this list because if you aren't interested in working with a Propeller controller most of the best stuff on the site will not interest us.Trossen Robotics
Trossen robotics has a lot of the same collection of parts, sensors, and controllers that you can find on other places. What makes this a good site for robot parts is the great support you get in terms of forums and tutorials. You can tell that they try the products they sell, and then try to only stock the things they are good. If you go to their garage sale page you can see robot products that they decided weren't good enough to sell. For example, they don't sell every Dynamixel servo, with great support, except the RX-10 which I think they choose not to sell for its poor price/ performance.
Trossen is a great place for Dynamixel servos, Arduino controllers, and brackets and frames for walking robots. I think the guy who creatred MechWars works for Trossen, and you can see a lot of the people who do MechWars hang out on the site.
A really cool product you can get at Trossen Robotics is the Arbotix Robot controller. This is a small Arduino based controller with a slot for an XBee wireless controller built in.Robot Marketplace
Jim Smentowsky made the great Battlebot robot Nightmare. I met him at Robogames one time because we were both doing beetle-weight robots. He also has a store called the Robot Maketplace which is an online store and an actual physical place in Florida.
Unsurprisingly, Robot Marketplace has a lot of great parts for combat robots. It has good electric motors and it is one of the only places where you can get kits for building combat robots. The people who do this site know about robots, particularly combat robots, and they try to stock the best stuff.
Robot marketplace sells the only Antweight combat robot kit I know of. I am getting one for my nephew so that he can build his own battle robot for Robogames 2011.Lynxmotion
If you want to make walking robots, I really recommend looking at what is available at Lynxmotion. They have a variety of good kits for legged robots, and good kits for sumo robots as well. The brackets they sell have a number of applications for almost any robot. The forums are a good place to find people who are working on walking robots.
Lynxmotion has a basic biped kit called the Brat. This is the cheapest way I know of to learn about two legged robots. I really recomend starting with a hexapod, and they have good kits for that. But as a simple two legged kit the Brat is unique.
All the Lynxmotion kits are modular and easy to expand and modify. You can use their parts for your own robots, as I often do.
ServoCity isn't really a robot site, but I still recommend it highly for robot builders. They carry the best brands of servos only. They have a huge selection and the best prices. They also have all the equipment to use with servos, including testers, radio control units, mounting hardware, linear actuators, and so on.
ServoCity seems to service a broader audience than just robot builders, but they seem to understand their products. They have good descriptions of the servos and what they are good for. You won't find off brand Chineses servos at ServoCity, all the products seem very good.Pololu Robotics and Electronics
Pololu is another site that could be confused with a lot of other hobby electronic sites. But they make their own custom controller boards and small robot kits that are good for people starting out. There are good controllers and speed controllers, as well as a variety of electronics for small hobby robots. The parts on Pollolu are good. To me this is another site that cares about what it sells and picks a good selection of parts.
Do you have better suggestions? Please email me at backyard robots to let me know what you think I should put on this list.