There´s no doubt that you will want to connect everything up and get programming, but before you start, we´re going to go over some basic concepts that will be useful later on.

What is a robot?


The word “robot” comes from the Czech “robota”, meaning forced or hard labour. It was used for the first time in Karel Čapek´s play Rossum Universal Robots and its usage was extended through the science fiction works of Isaac Asimov.

We often imagine a robot as a machine with a human form, that walks, talks and makes gestures… but in reality it´s a lot more simple.

“A robot is an programmable automated machine which can interpret information from the physical environment in order to adapt its behaviour. It has the capacity to interact with the environment and carry out different functions accordingly.”

    All robots have three types of components:

  • Control system: such as the controller board.
  • Sensors: they can read information on the surrounding environment or the robot itself.
  • Actuators: they produce an effect in the environment or the robot.


If we compare robots to human beings, the sensors would be our senses. They send information to the control system (the brain) and we modify our behaviour and effect our surroundings through actuators (parts of the body). A robot also needs a source of power in order to function and a physical structure to sustain the elements it is made up of.

The control system: the controller board.

The brain or controller board is like a small computer. It is basically a microcontroller that can be connected to sensors (senses) and actuators (muscles, voice, etc.).

Partes de la zum

    The ZUM board is made up of the following components:

  • Microprocessor: the microchip performs all the necessary operations to make your board execute your program.
  • Digital pins: they can only have two values: 1 or 0, all or nothing, on or off.
  • Analogue pins: they can have multiple values: 0, 1, 34, 255, etc.
  • Micro-USB input: the board communicates with your computer through this port.
  • Battery input: the board receive energy from the batteries or the power supply unit so that it can function.
  • Bluetooth: it enables the board to communicate wirelessly with the computer, smartphone or other devices.
  • ON/OFF button: it cuts off the power supply to the pins on your board so that you can program without the robot moving constantly.
  • Voltage regulators: they adapt the power voltage to make it equal to that of the board: 5V.

The sensors

A sensor is simply an electronic component that sends a smaller or larger amount of electricity according to a physical element, such as light, sound or distance, etc. To connect a sensor to our board, we will first need to check if the sensor is digital or analogue.

The digital sensor

A digital sensor can only have two values: 1 or 0, all or nothing. An example of a digital sensor is a button, which can either have the value of 1 when pressed or 0 when not pressed. On a ZUM board or a similar one, the digital sensors will be connected on the digital pins D0-D13. pulsador

OJO IMPORTANT: Digital pins 0->RX and 1->TX are used to send and receive data, so if you connect them to a sensor or actuator and program the board, the program might not load, or it could malfunction – Also, because of LED D13, pin D13 does not receive the same voltage, which could cause you issues when using certain elements. Use these pins with caution.

The analogue sensor

An analogue sensor can have multiple states and is able to transform the quantity of light, temperature or other physical elements into a value between 0 and 1023. An example would be a light sensor, which gives a smaller or larger value based on the quantity of light received. On a ZUM board or a similar one, the analogue sensors will be connected on the analogue pins A0-A5. sensorluz

The actuators

An actuator is an electronic component which can act on the surrounding environment. For example, a motor that moves a wheel, an LED that indicates which device is switched on, a loudspeaker that emits a warning sound, etc.

By using a ZUM board or a similar one, any actuators that we use will be connected to a digital pin. Some actuators, such as LEDs, only have two states, whereas others, such as servo motors, can have several positions, making them analogue components. For this type of actuator, our board, which happens to be digital, will make use of a trick or method known as PWM signal. Don´t worry about that for now, we will come back to this later. led

How does a controller board think?

From time to time, it will happen that you create a project or robot that doesn´t turn out as you expected. Remember that your controller board is the brain of your machine, but it is more much limited than a human brain.

    The controller board…

  • Thinks about (processes) things one by one, it can´t do two things at once.
  • Thinks and repeats actions very fast, sometimes so fast that we can´t even see what it´s doing and we need to tell it to hang on a bit.
  • It never does things that you haven´t told it to do. You need to program it to do everything you want it do and give it commands one by one.
  • When the board finishes its to-do list, it usually starts again, repeating the program over and over.

Throughout this course, you will get to know and learn how to use loads of sensors and actuators that will be really useful. Don´t forget that the secret is not the quantity, it´s about knowing what you´ve got and how to use it to the max. Come back to this page whenever you have doubts, or leave us a comment if you´re stuck on something.

OK, shall we start programming stuff now? Come on then!