Any opinion on VEX and DF RobotShop Rover 2 verse homemade bots?
Though I enjoyed building a robot, I've come to the conclusion that my tracked device, which is very similar to a DF RobotShop Rover 2, is a piece of garbage. The tracks derail and it is hard to change the batteries.
I was considering just buying the DF RobotShop Rover 2 with XBee/ethernet option or buy the VEX starter bundle for creating a proper frame. Or maybe its time to buy something better/more expensive? My main interests are machine learning. It is convenient to have a shoe box sized robot that is easy to transport.
DF RobotShop Rover 2: http://www.robotshop.com/dfrobotshop-rover-tracked-robot-xbee-kit-4.html
Have you looked into a hobby-grade R/C tank chassis; perhaps something from Tamiya - for instance:
Mind you, these won't be inexpensive if you go for the full kit, but you might be able to get just the "running gear" if you do a bit of research (go to some hobby stores, order catalogs from Tamiya, send them an email (or call them), etc. Basically you just want the bottom metal piece, gearbox/motors, wheels/suspension and tracks. Maybe the ESCs as well.
Another alternative (cheaper) would be to pick up a 1/16 scale (or thereabouts) R/C airsoft tank; these tend to be cheaper quality - you see them all the time on Ebay. Then tear it down to the chassis.
Lastly, there are a few el-cheapo full-function toy R/C (and wired controller) tanks out there, that can make for a good chassis...
R/C kits are a good idea. I had a Tamiya Grasshopper that is much quicker and better made than similarly priced robots. I guess I’ve been resistent to using toys. I only went with tracks after similarly powered three wheeled robots got stuck climbing from floor to rug.
Another possibility: The Dagu Rovers are pretty good and a lot cheaper: http://goo.gl/unzzr
Lots of info on the Dagu Support Site: DAGU products
DISCLAIMER: Mentioned stuff from my own shop...
I envied my friend who had one of those decades ago when we were both in junior high; I can imagine putting an Arduino on one (and swapping the original rheostat "ESC" for something more modern - maybe even put a BLDC motor in, too!) - then a bunch of sensors to make a hella quick self-driving robot (I know they make faster cars now, but I remember that thing being so darn fast!)...
One big problem I have is not wanting to wait for parts when I have the opportunity to work. Also, my wife does not like me using power tools in the kitchen. But my wife and family were away for the weekend, so the cardboard chasis was largely replaced by HDPE, one battery was replaced by a LiPo battery, and a simple bracket was added for a smartphone. The result is quite suitable for indoor SLAM projects.
It does not compare with the Grasshopper with its 4 wheel independent suspension and large motor. Maybe that will be my next project? I don't want to build from scratch again.