Robots For All Ages
Robots can range from incredibly simple to incredibly complex. No matter what the grade or your budget, robots get students engaged.
John Park builds some lively and inexpensive miniature robots.
Starting with a simple vibrabot made from a scrub brush, John assembles a solar junkbot and a slightly more complex beetlebot, which has paper clip feelers attached to switches that allow it to respond to its environment.
All it takes are a few common electronic components and some everyday objects and you and your students can make an entertaining robots.
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If you're a beginner just starting out these eight projects will help hone your skills. Could be the basis for a class or after-school project lab.
Make A Simple Robotic Arm from Cardboard
Not all projects require soldering or electronics. This simple hand explores many of the concepts of robotics, but is created from cardboard, drinking straws, string and a hot glue gun.
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DIY Soft Robotic Tentacle
Learn how to make your own soft robotic tentacle using silicone rubber and some ball point pens!
This project is an easy and affordable way to demonstrate soft robots. The molds only take a few minutes to make and do not require any careful measurements. A single trial size unit of Ecoflex 00-50 (approx. $30) contains enough rubber to make over 40 tentacles. This makes it an ideal project to introduce students to the the field of soft robotics.
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Using recycled boxes from cereal boxes and other household items, maybe some construction paper, and paper fasteners your younger students can build their own "robots".
When the robots are complete, have the students make up a story about their robot.
Making A Simple Autonomous Robot
This video shows what it takes to make a simple autonomous robot using an ultrasound sensor and Arduino computer board. The parts list, code, and written instructions can be found at the YouTube link below.
Once the robot has been assembled and is working, you can modify the code to make the robot perform additional functions. Add a small video camera and you can record videos of it exploring your classroom.
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NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has designed a driving 6-wheel rover with almost the same suspension system as the real rovers on Mars, but using commonly available components that your students can buy online and assemble in a garage. They provide the the parts list and the build instructions, your students provide the hands, brains, and elbow grease to put it all together.
The downside is that the parts run about $2,500. The good news is that others have already come up with cheaper versions (see Swappy the Rover).
Check out the drive-the-rover-yourself demo on the main page!
So, looking for a cheaper rover platform, say under $500?
Roger Cheng was inspired by JPL's Open Source Rover project and created a much cheaper alternative, Sawppy. Most of the differences between Sawppy and its JPL inspiration were motivated by a desire to reduce cost and complexity.
The main differences with Swappy is using serial bus servo motors rather than gearmotors with encoders and replacing the Actobotics construction system with aluminum extrusions beams connected by 3D-printed plastic parts.
Roger includes complete assembly instructions, CAD and STL files, videos, and a build blog with stories of the design goals and lessons learned from failures.
FIRST sponsors a series of competitions each school year, including a robotics challenge.
Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, feels that "FIRST is more than robots. The robots are a vehicle for students to learn important life skills. Kids often come in not knowing what to expect ... They leave with a vision, with confidence, and with a sense that they can create their own future."
There are a wide variety of ready-to-run programmable robots out there. Here's an article outlining some of the best as of 2018.
Many of these robots can be programmed with a version of Scratch, an easy-to-use programming language. Makes for a simple way to get started.