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Robot bug

 
 

Overview

Materials needed per robot

  • 2x 3 V, 13,100 RPM DC motor
  • 2x white cable ties
  • 4x yellow 10/0.1 wire (approx. 10 cm each)
  • 2x red 10/0.1 wire (approx. 10 cm each)
  • 3x green 10/0.1 wire (approx. 10 cm each)
  • 2x black 10/0.1 wire (approx. 10 cm each)
  • Strong double-sided sticky tape or servo mounting tape
  • Battery box with switch for 2x AA batteries
  • 2x 8 mm pulleys (2 mm bore)
  • 2x grommet, open, 6.4 x 6.3 x 1.7
  • 2x 43 mm lever solder switch (microswitch)
  • 2x AA batteries
  • Foam PVC (Foamex), 9 x 2 cm
  • Sticky tape
  • Electrical tape
  • Additional items for decorating
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Heatproof mat
  • Scissors
  • Optional hot glue gun

This will cost approximately £2.30 per robot.

Practicalities

  • Most schools will have access to this equipment; one supplier we have found that stocks all the relevant materials is Rapid.
  • Depending on facilities and time available at your school you could set up the robots before the session using the first activity page, ‘Initial steps’. This would involve doing all the soldering and bending the Foamex in advance. Another option would be to get older students to help in the initial stages, bearing in mind any safety rules your school may have about soldering. However, if you have more time available in your science club or lesson, it is good for students to do the initial setup themselves. This stage of the process will take about 25 minutes per robot, depending on previous experience. You may want to cut wires in advance as well, but this is not necessary.
  • Once the initial assembly is complete it will take about 20 minutes to connect all the wires and get the robots working. It is worth allowing 30 minutes for this so that students can try out their robots as well.
  • Putting all the equipment needed for one robot into a clear plastic sandwich bag makes it much easier to hand out to students and avoids a lot of mess as well.
  • One of the best places for students to try out their robot bugs is on the science lab floor, because of its smooth surface.
  • You may want students to use a glue gun to firmly stick the microswitches, wing and motors in place – but only once they have made sure their robot works.
  • When you are not using the robot bug you should take the batteries out to avoid the microswitches turning on by accident.

Discussion

  • What would happen if you connected the wires differently?
  • What could you use this robot for?
  • What is a robot?
  • What is the future of robots?
  • Could you make a different robot with the same kit?
  • What would happen if one motor sticks out more than the other?
  • Are there any problems with the way your robot is moving? Can you do anything to improve it?

Extensions

  • Build a simple maze or obstacle course to see whose robot can navigate its way round the fastest.
  • You could make this whole activity a theme day where students build the robot from start to finish and examine other simple robots as well.
  • Students could build a casing to conceal the loose wires on the robot; for example students could make a 'ladybird shell' out of a dust filter mask.
  • You could use the activity as the starting point for thinking about the potential for robots in the future.
  • For students who are blind or partially sighted you could do the same activity using Wikki Stix (sometimes called Bendaroos), or you could stick different-sized labels on each wire so the colours are distinguished. 
  • For a very advanced class you could introduce ‘robot wars’ where students build their own robots that battle against each other. Winners can be determined in a number of different ways, such as the robot that pushes the other one out of the arena first.
  • Students could experiment with the same kit and see what other robots they can build.
  • Students could try adding additional parts to the robot to see if they can alter the way it moves, for example sticking cable ties to the ‘antennae’ to make them longer.
  • Students could experiment with changing the diameter of the wheels and trying different materials for the tyres. This would be a good exploration of friction.

Links to everyday life

Domestic Robots

Although this activity is about a simple robot there are many examples of robots in everyday life. Robots are now starting to be used in the home, where they are usually referred to as domestic robots. They include robots for vacuuming, mowing the lawn and entertaining (such as serving drinks). These robots can be programmed and then left to do the task themselves.

Boy with drinks robot, 1984. 
Boy with drinks robot, October 1984.

Industrial robots

These can be programmed and automatically controlled for manufacturing purposes. Within industry they can be used for painting, packaging and assembly.

Unimate 2000B industrial robot c.1979. 
Unimate 2000B industrial robot c.1979.

Medical Robots

These are made to assist in complex or minimally invasive surgery. Some complex prosthetics could also be considered robots as they react to the environment without the user needing to input any information, e.g. how tightly they grip an object without crushing it. Other robot devices include ones used to lift patients in hospitals and ones used to automate tedious tasks in laboratories.

'Bloodbot' with inventor Alex Zivanomic, 2001 
‘Bloodbot’ with inventor Alex Zivanoovic, March 2001.

The science – an introduction

A robot is an artificial device that performs a task, reacting to its environment autonomously.

This robot uses a simple circuit to enable the wheels to move. Batteries provide electrical current that runs through the wires and to the individual components of the circuit. This energy is converted to electromotive force inside the motor, which enables the motor to move, spinning the wheels. Microswitches provide an added complexity: when a microswitch is pushed it reverses the opposite wheel, making the robot rotate so it will turn away from an obstacle and be able to start moving again.