If you are reading this, you may be interested in self driving cars. Indeed, in a few years, you may be a passenger in one yourself. If you can't wait and want to start experimenting with the sensors and algorithms involved, a great way to begin is by modifying a small R/C race car, adding in your own electronics and sensors, and writing some basic filtering and control algorithms.

You can race your final creation in the annual Sparkfun Autonomous Vehicle Competition, compete in the Carnegie Mellon Mobot Races, or just have fun experimenting.

Step 1: Pick a 1/10 scale car or buggy

Check out a site like Tower Hobbies or Hobby King and pick out a nice 1/10 scale electric car or buggy kit. On-road electric cars are suitable for indoor use, or use on paved surfaces. They tend to have lower suspensions. An off-road electric buggy will have larger diameter wheels, more suspension, and will be better suited to grass and dirt.

Here is what you are looking for:

  • 1/10 Scale Electric truck or buggy
  • Sensored Brushless Motor (a sensored motor allows for more precise control at low speeds and measurement of distance travelled)
  • Either 2WD or 4WD will work
  • 2S LiPo (lithium polyer) battery with charger

Suggested options:

  • BSR Racing 4WD Buggy - RTR Kit This kit is very inexpensive, and comes with almost everything you need all in one. You can assembled the kit and play around with the R/C car before converting it into a robot.
  • DEX410v4 buggy kit This kit is more pricey, and requires you to pick out and purchase several additional components such as shock fluid, steering servo motor, and more. However, it has 4WD with center shaft, and a very sturdy aluminum frame that can stand quite a beating.

For my project, I chose the DEX410v4 buggy kit. I added a high performance HSB-9360TH steering servo, and a basic 2 cell LiPo battery pack.

Step 2 : Assemble the basic car

Once you get what you need, assemble the kit according to the instructions and give it a test drive.
Assembling the frame

Complete car

In Part 2, I will go over how to mount the electronics and connect the car to a high performance Linux computer.