Robotics for Kids
Robotics for kids sounds like something that only engineers and hard-core scientists would take on. But then my youngest daughter (age 4) spent the day with her dad at our local science center and came home with the coolest little robot ever. I’d like to introduce you to the Scribble Bot. It’s about the easiest version of a robot that little kids can make. It’s simple enough for a three or four year old to make with grown-up help and easy enough for older kids to make all by themselves. Plus the parts are incredibly inexpensive so it can be used for small groups or classroom settings.
I’ve had nearly as much fun playing with this little guy as my kids have. In fact, I just ordered enough parts for my Girl Scout Brownies to make them at our next meeting. I always get excited when I can bring something STEM related to my Girl Scouts.
What You’ll Need
- 1.5-6V hobby motor (no wires)
- battery holder with wires
- plastic cup (or some other container to tape the markers to)
- 3-5 same size markers (I made the mistake of using slightly different lengths…just get ones that are the same length, it’ll be easier)
- counter weight (I used a chunk of hot glue gun stick and a rock I found in the yard – but you can make up anything you want – it just has to be able to attach to the motor somehow)
- 1 AA battery
- masking tape
Robotics for Kids – On the Cheap
So I bet you’re wondering just how much this little robot costs to make. Let’s run down the list piece by piece.
- hobby motor – $0.95
- battery holder – $0.65
- plastic cup – $.03
- markers – $0.25
- counter weight – free (it was just something I had lying around my house!)
- 1 AA battery – $0.25
- masking tape – free (had it kicking around for years)
Grand Total: $2.13
Step by Step
Step 1 – Attach the Legs
First thing is to attach the legs (i.e. markers) to the cup by taping them on with the masking tape. These are the robot’s legs so you’ll want them to be as even as possible so your robot will stand up and your scribbles will make a predictable pattern. I just grabbed four markers from our marker stash and it was sort of a pain since they weren’t all the same length. My advice is to get three matching markers. I’m always about making the building easier so you can get to the fun part (playing with it!) faster.
Step 2 – Attach the Battery Holder
Simple tape the battery holder on close to the top of your cup. The motor will live on the top of the cup so you’ll need to put the battery holder close enough to the top that the wires can reach the motor.
Step 3 – Attach the Motor
Position the motor on the top of the cup with the spinner (the small metal rod) over the edge of the top. This will make your motor off-center (this is on purpose!) The little spinner will have something attached to it later on so that it works sort of like a fan blade. Now attach the motor to the top of the cup using your masking tape (be generous). It’ll need to be stuck down pretty good because the robot shakes quite a bit.
Step 4 – Connect the Wires to the Motor
This is perhaps the easiest step. Taking the exposed metal parts of each wire – simply loop them through the metal holes and bend the wire down to secure. I had it pop out a time or two during the scribbling, but it’s super easy to just put back in. It doesn’t matter which side red or black go into, just put one on each side. The arrows in the picture below show you the area on the hobby motor I’m talking about.
Step 5 – Add Your Counter Weight
Now all you gotta do is create a counter weight to make your robot be a little off balance. If you installed the battery at this point and watched it, nothing much would happen. The shaft would spin smoothly and the cup would just sit there. But when you install a counter weight to make it intentionally off kilter – you get the cool vibrating motion that creates our scribbles.
The piece of hot glue gun stick – I used this because the glue is soft enough that I could jam it onto the spinning shaft.
The rock I found in the yard and taped to the glue stick fragment.
Step 6 – Uncap Your Markers and Place the Scribble Bot on Paper
Flip your robot upside down and uncap your markers. Now place it on a big ol’ sheet of paper. We’re ready to get it going!
Step 7 – Install Your Battery
We’re ready for the fun part. Making sure that you put the negative side in the negative end of the battery holder (minus sign to minus sign, etc.) push the battery into the battery holder. Your scribble bot should be shaking now. Put it on paper and watch what happens!
Step 8 – Experiment!
Watch that baby go! Can you adjust the counter weight and make it create different patterns on the paper?
Watch the Scribble Bot Movin’ and Shakin’
Here’s a quick little video of what it looks like in action. Super fun huh? Betcha didn’t think that robotics for kids could be THIS easy!