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I am looking to build some custom hardware (nothing too fancy, just some motors, cameras and the like), and I need it to be controlled by my laptop (its going to have to do a non-trivial amount of image processing).

Is there a way to attach $n$ motors to a laptop where $n<10$ via USB/e-SATA? It seems like something that should be very easy to solve, but I can't seem to find it anywhere.

I am not looking to get an Arduino/Raspberry Pi, really just connect the motors, and be able to control them individually. I am comfortable adding more power from a second source to supplement the USB power.

Ideas?

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The hardware you are looking for are the controllers from the canadian company Phidgets (http://www.phidgets.com/)
They have lot of different sensor, actors and communication interfaces connected to a PC/Laptop with USB. The "physical Widgets" are pretty easy to use, because you get a relatively good API along with the boards.
The disadvantage of them: They cost a lot compared to the workaround solutions with arduino/ras-pi/mbed/beaglebone

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  • $\begingroup$ Can I shunt the computation from a Pi to my laptop, or once I use a Pi its basically standalone? $\endgroup$ – soandos Jan 30 '15 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ You can use the PI (or an arduino, which is easier) as a dumb hardware interface. Plugin the device at your laptop's usb port and then send from the computer commands, the hardware interface gets the command and then write or read a port. I did something with an arduino due. I designed a Hardware board and now I have a fully functional industrial PLC, which has some modularity. I can send commands from the PC and my controller just switches or read the inputs. $\endgroup$ – TobiasK Jan 30 '15 at 7:12
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Other possible source of electronics for such applications are pololu, adafruit, and sparkfun. All three of them offer all sorts of motor controllers, servo controllers, sensor interface boards, etc.

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