So I want to program something that will simply push a button, but controllable over ethernet. I'm new to robotics so I don't know where to start. What's the best way to control an actuator over a network connection?
First, let's consider what actuator you need to physically push a button. One straight forward solution is to use a RC-Servo motor. An RC-Servo motor is a high torque (DC motor with gearbox) actuator which can be instructed to rotate at a specific angle. It is controlled through a PWM signal. So you need to figure out the duty cycle of the PWM signal to do the desired movement and push the button you want.
Secondly we need a controller that:
- is able to generate a PWM signal
- communicate through the Internet
First thing that comes to my mind is to use a Raspberry Pi. Of course it is a huge overkill to use it just for pushing a button but in the process you will learn a lot of interesting things about setting up Raspberry Pi. You can setup a minimal web-server using python in less that 5 minutes. Arduino with an Ethernet shield as DaemonMaker suggested is also a great setup.
What I focused on was first getting Arduino to work as a Web-server (a bit like this), then including hyperlinks in the Arduino-generated page that would then allow me to control the actuator.
You can use an Ethernet-enabled microcontroller as someone mentioned above. The board can be used as the interface between the network and the mechanism that you will be using to push the button.
For the mechanism you can use a servo motor or a pneumatic that releases with less force(you can control this by adjusting the inputs to the pneumatics manually). Any thing you use will have to have a control or a drive circuitry that triggers the mechanism.
You will have to write a code block for the conversion of the frame received via the Ethernet to a control signal understandable by the control circuitry.