Robot parts to challenge the inventor-in-you can be found anywhere. I’ve picked up parts at the local hardware store to build a chassis or two. I’ve also converted everyday things to mobile platforms, including a lunchbox and a tower computer case. Turning the mundane into the mobile is part of the fun I have when making robots.
One source of parts that I’ve always had an affinity for is the online surplus market. Back when we first started designing motor controls we needed motors for testing, and I didn’t want to pay retail. Plus, a lot of motor manufacturers don’t want to sell single units. Back in the day I received a paper catalog from a company that I think was called C&H Surplus. These guys had tons of motors. They had good quality Pittman parts with encoders and gear heads for about 1/4 the price of new parts. They also had giant resistors, old military parts, wheels, gears, lenses, things with other things attached that moved in weird ways, and probably a flux capacitor or two. It was a smorgasbord of parts. I found them again this morning, and it looks like they barely made the transition from paper to the Internets.
Because of that experience I still like to browse the surplus companies. This morning I ran across a closeout on a CMOS camera (ZoomCam ISA Model 1575 made by Zoom Telephonics) selling for $5. $5 has got to be less than the cost of shipping. Surplus shed, who is selling the camera, also has a neat gear finder tool on their page. Gears and cameras, of course they go together.
Here are some links to electronic surplus stores online that I’ve browsed recently.
Buying surplus parts involves a little risk. Sometimes they don’t work the way you want, or at all. Sometimes you get a gem for cheap. You’ve got to be brave if you’re going to lay your money on the line and hope for the best.
Do a little search on your own for surplus parts (and don’t forget eBay). The parts you run across might stimulate some creative recesses in your brain, or you might find some obscure one-of-a-kind part that you need to have. You might even create the worlds first anti-gravity skateboard built entirely of stuff discarded by last decade’s failed products.