Take a mega bite out of mechanical engineering by building robots!
About the Activity
Robots are the future—and the present! In this activity, create a robot that draws on paper. You will learn how moving and non-moving parts interact when building a machine.
Grades: 3 – 5
Topic: Mechanical engineering
Estimated Time: 45 minutes
Brought to you by HughesNet, University of California Extension, and Nebraska Extension.
These simple materials—along with a few specialty supplies—will get you started.
- AA Battery
- Fine tip washable markers
- Pencil eraser (mechanical pencil is easier because the eraser removes easily)
- Plastic or paper cup
- Rubber bands
- Toy motor
- 10” copper wire with stripped ends
- Electrical tape
Robots are more than just fun toys! Before you get started, consider this: A robot is a machine designed to do things humans can do. The first robot was created in the 1950s by George C. Devol. It was called Unimate and designed to do industrial tasks—like build a car! Now, robots can vacuum, help us navigate space...almost anything!
There are lots of different ways to engineer your robot to draw on paper. The steps for one way to make the robot work are below.
- Tape the pencil eraser to the shaft (the piece that will rotate) on the toy motor.Did You Know? Robots started out as machines that could do simple tasks. The first Robot made by Stanford was called “Shakey” because of the way it wobbled around the room—now they help us do even bigger tasks. In July 2020, NASA sent Perseverance, a robot with six wheels, into space to explore for life on the planet Mars
- Attach four markers using tape or rubber bands onto the cup with the tips pointing towards the lip of the cup. The marker tips need to clear the cup lip.Did You Know? Robonauts are a series of robots built by NASA to help astronauts in space do spacewalks.
- Tape the pencil eraser to the toy motor axis.
- Connect the copper wires to the connectors on the back of the toy motor. Secure them with tape or rubber bands to keep them from getting disconnected.
- Secure the toy motor to the side of the cup using the tape. The motor axis and eraser should be pointing away from the cup (perpendicular to the cup).
- Tape the battery to the top of the cup.
- Tape one of the copper wire ends to the + side of the battery.
- Touch the second copper wire end to the – side of the battery and watch your robot go!How it works: The off-centered weight attached to the motor causes it to wobble, which creates the force that moves the robot forward. The amount of wobble that is created varies depending on the amount of weight you attach, the weight’s distance from the shaft, and the speed at which the motor spins. This type of motor can be attached to many different types of objects to create a vibration, which will cause them to move in a weird way. This is the same type of system that is found inside cell phones and gaming controllers to make them vibrate.
Questions for your kids and teens.
- What aspects of your design worked well?
- What could have been improved?
- How could you change what your robot can draw?
- What daily task do you wish a robot could do for you? How might you build a robot like that?
- What do you think robots in the future might be able to do?
Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.
Experiment with placing the robot parts in different places and compare how the different designs worked. If working with older youth, don’t give them instruction but lay out the supplies and let them get creative, and try designing the robot on their own or in groups.
Today, robots are all around us. You probably have some in your own house. Your parents or guardians might have a robot that vacuums your home or one that flies in the air and can take pictures. How many can you count?
Robots are our future, too—they can help us explore space, order, and function in our modern world, and make life easier.
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