This tutorial will show you how to build and program a self-balancing LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 robot that can drive around a room. You can build and program BALANC3R (left) or Gyro Boy (right). Once your robot is up and running, you’ll be challenged to customize the construction and program to invent your own self-balancing robot.
Step 1: Building a robot
To begin, choose the robot you want to build, and follow the respective step-by-step building instructions.
Requirements for BALANC3R:
- 1x LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Home Edition #31313
- 1x Gyroscopic Sensor (learn more)
- Click to go to the building instructions.
Requirements for Gyro Boy:
- 1x LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Education Core Set #45544
- Click to go to the building instructions.
Step 2: Installing the EV3 Gyro Sensor block
If you’re using the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Home Edition Software, you’ll need to install the EV3 Gyro Sensor block before you can program your robot.
- Follow the steps in this article to install the block.
- If you’re using the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Student Edition, this block is already installed.
Step 3: Download the balancing robot project
- Right-click this link, click “Save Link As,” and save the project file to your computer.
- Launch the EV3 programming software, and open the downloaded project file.
Before you run the programs, let’s briefly examine how they work. The project includes four example programs, two for each robot:
- BALANC3R-Basics: Balance in place, turn right, and turn left
- BALANC3R-RemoteControl: Control the robot with the infrared remote
- GyroBoy-Basics: Balance in place, turn right, and turn left
- GyroBoy-AvoidObstacles: Drive around while avoiding obstacles
Each program consists of two configuration blocks, a balance loop, and a drive control loop, as shown in the figure below.
- The configuration blocks let you specify what the robot looks like, so that the robot knows how to balance. For example, the second setting of the first setting specifies the diameter of the robot’s wheels. The example programs come preconfigured with the correct settings for BALANC3R and Gyro Boy if you use the LEGO EV3 Gyro Sensor. If you use the NXT HiTechnic Gyro, change the Choose Sensor setting on the Initialize My Block to 1.
- The balance loop keeps the robot balanced. It measures and calculates the position and speed of the motors, and it determines the robot’s angular velocity (how fast it’s falling), as well as the robot’s angle relative to the ground. In turn, it uses this sensor information to calculate how to drive the motors in order to keep the robot up right. You won’t need to change any setting of the blocks in this loop.
- The drive control loop controls the speed and steering of the robot as it drives around a room using a simplified move block. This is the part of the program that you can easily customize to create your own program.
Step 4: Running the basic example program
You are now ready to download the example program to your robot.
- If you’ve built BALANC3R, begin with BALANC3R-Basics.
- If you’ve built Gyro Boy, begin with GyroBoy-Basics.
To start the program:
- Hold the robot upright with its wheels on the ground. Do not hold it tightly, but hold it loosely so that it’s just between falling forward and falling backward.
- Select the program and start it with the center button on the EV3 brick.
- You’ll first hear one beep. Keep holding the robot in place.
- You’ll then hear a double beep. Now release the robot and let it balance.
Your robot should now repeatedly balance in place for 7 seconds, turn right for 7 seconds, and turn left for 7 seconds.
Follow these steps if the robot doesn’t balance:
- If it doesn’t work on the first try, repeat the steps above a few times. After a while, you’ll know which is the correct “upright” starting position.
- Do not try to “help” the robot balance. Of course you should catch the robot before it falls, but trying to keep it upright with your hands is counter-effective.
- Verify that the cables have been plugged correctly according to the building instructions:
- The two Large motors should be connected to ports A and D. (If you’ve accidentally interchanged them, that’s fine. The robot will confuse left and right turns, but balancing is unaffected.)
- The Gyro Sensor should be connected to input port 2, regardless of which sensor you use.
- Verify that you’ve mounted the Gyro Sensor correctly according to the building instructions.
- Verify that the batteries are fresh.
- Verify that you are using the latest EV3 firmware (1.06H or 1.06E as of this writing).
Step 5: Running the second example program
If you’ve successfully programmed your robot in the previous step, it’s easy to try out the other example program for your robot. The robot balances in exactly the same way, but the robot’s movements are a little more interesting:
- BALANC3R-RemoteControl lets you control BALANC3R with the infrared remote, as shown in the video above. Just press the buttons on the remote to make the robot drive forward, backward, and turn. (You’ll figure out the controls quickly.) If you don’t press any buttons, the robot just balances in the same place.
- GyroBoy-AvoidObstacles makes Gyro Boy drive around a room while backing up from obstacles, as shown in the video above. Before you run the program, make sure that the white beams of both the robot’s arms point downward. The program relies on this starting position to make sure the Ultrasonic Sensor doesn’t detect the floor as an ‘obstacle’ when the robot’s left arm points downward.
Step 6: Customizing the program
As you’ve learned earlier, the balance loop keeps the robot balanced while the drive control loop controls the robot’s speed and steering. The two loops run simultaneously, or at the same time. In the drive control loop, you use the Move My Block to specify the robot’s speed and steering, as shown below.
The robot keeps driving or turning at the specified rate until you run the block again with different values for speed and steering. The figure below shows the Move My Block in action in the basic example program you ran in step 4. The first Move block sets both steering and speed to 0, which makes the robot balance in place without turning. Next, a Wait block pauses the loop for 7 seconds, keeping the robot in the same place. Then, a second Move block sets the steering value to 20, making the robot turn to the right. After another 7 second wait, the robot starts tuning left by setting the steering value to -20.
Now that you’ve learned how to control the robot, it’s time to put your skills to the test with programming challenges. To solve these challenges, you can use the techniques from the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Discovery Book, presented throughout chapters 1-9. Instead of using Move Steering blocks in On mode as in the example programs, you use Move My Blocks as shown above.
Challenges for BALANC3R:
- Make your robot drive around a room while avoiding obstacles with the Infrared Sensor in Proximity mode.
- Make your robot follow the Infrared Beacon. As you move the beacon around, the robot should follow you.
- Attach the Color Sensor in front of the robot’s wheels, and make the robot follow a line. You can print line following tracks for your robot from here.
Challenges for Gyro Boy:
- Make your robot drive in different directions based on the color it detects with the Color Sensor. To accomplish this, make the robot wait for the sensor to see either a yellow, red, green, or blue object. Then, make it drive in a certain direction for 3 seconds based on the detected color, before waiting for a new color signal.
- Make your robot show different types of faces/eyes on the screen as you interact with its sensors. Show an angry face if you press the Touch Sensor, show a happy face when you trigger the Color Sensor, and so on.
Step 7: Making your own balancing robot
In the previous steps, you’ve made BALANC3R or Gyro Boy balance on two wheels, and you learned to control it with the Move My Block. Now that you’ve got the essential components working, you’re ready to customize both your robot and your program. For example, you can turn BALANC3R into a life-like humanoid with arms, and make it talk to you. Or, go crazy and make any EV3 vehicle balance on its rear wheels. What about a self-balancing F1 style race car? Whatever you make, let others know in the comments below. Happy building!
Step 8: Further reading
In order to make this tutorial accessible for everyone with an EV3 set, I didn’t cover the details of the balancing algorithm. Rather, the design of this program makes it possible to control the robot even if you don’t know exactly how the balancing mechanism works.
However, many papers have been written about self-balancing robots, and I encourage you to read more on the subject as you explore the details of the EV3 program provided on this page. The balancing algorithm in this program is based on a Bachelor thesis written by Steven Witzand, which provides a good overview of the subject, along with Java source code that implements the balancing algorithm. In turn, this paper relies on the design and algorithm used in the NXTway-GS by Yorihisa Yamamoto, which you can study for further detail.