Let's Make Robots!

Ideas for a Children's Museum Exhibit

There's a very small children's museum near me, and I've talked to them about putting together a robot exhibit. They've shown some interest, so I'm going to put together some ideas. Here's where you come in...

The 'museum' is basically just a large room at a community center. They don't have a dedicated space, so this is not to be a permanent exhibit. They can set up tables for different kids' activities. The events I've seen at the place had to be pretty open to accomodate a range of ages. Also, I would expect that most activities would be manned by volutneers. A demonstration or video presentation could be scheduled, but other activities would just have to be available throughout the day or weekend.

My idea is to have a bunch of tables where kids could learn and experiment with different aspects of robotics. For example:

  • Gears: Kids free play with pegboards and build gear systems. Two pre-set displays show how different gear ratios affect the ability to lift a weight.
  • Motors and Generators: Two identical gear motors are electrically connected so that one acts as a generator to power the other. A switch would allow the generator to power a light bulb or LED instead. Kids can crank the generator to power the light or turn the other motor.
  • Batteries: A fixed display of batteries of different types shows kids something familiar. A supply of potatos, zinc and copper allow them to build their own batteries and power an LED.
  • Motion: A comparison of different methods of motion. Kids can play with platforms that have wheels, tracks, legs, etc. and see how they compare over flat ground, bumps, ramps, and other terrain.
  • Turning: Example platforms the kids can play with that show differential steering Vs. front and/or rear wheel steering.

You get the idea, I think.

For the demo/video portion, I thought about showing a variety of commerial robot toys, and asking the kids to identify how some of them work, based on their experience at the tables. Then I'd show fun videos of various robots (hobby, industrial, toys, etc.) in use.

There's a potential for a more focused workshop with older kids who would sign up for a 2-3 day class that includes building and programming a robot.

So, I need thoughts on the structure of the program, ideas for activity tables, demo/video thoughts, and build a robot workshop thoughts.


Update: 2011-06-19

I got the go-ahead from the local children's museum for a robotics exhibit this fall. Now it gets real.

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I'm just curious to find out what you ended up doing?

Funny you should ask now, because we are doing a 2nd exhibit at the same museum on April 21st this year!

The 1st exhibit went pretty well. We built this SpurtBot line follower design. I brought enough for 20 kits, and every single one got built. 

We also had displays about batteries, including potato battery experiments. We had Squishy Circuits, which are really fun. I built a power generation station, where kids could turn cranks and run various electrical devices. We had robot toys running all over the place, plus building sets like 'Gears, Gears, Gears', etc.

This year I'm revising the SpurtBot design to make a SpurtBot ShadowBot. It will run forward until it hits a shadow, then it will back up and turn for a moment and then continue forward. Kids can chase them and try to put the sensor in shadow with their hands. It's lots of fun. This design will be a no-solder build for the kids, which should be a lot easier than last year. The age range for the exhibit is 6-12 years old.

 kind of challenge program. Like where.. for older kids, you grouped them in teams. ( this would have to be after they learned some robotics stuff) Then develop a pretty easy challenge... like the ones here on LMR. Maybe give them a few hours. Or heck a whole day or two. THen they have to return with the finsihing project and display it. Maybe give out a prize. You would probably have to give them some resources to build it also. It might be just a little overboard... but you could probably make it better.

I have relatives that live in martinsville, nj, and I was wondering what the location of the children museum is because I am going to visit them this fall and I would like to come check it out!


They walk you through construction and avoid a good bit of the cost of a SHR.

What a nice project you are working on! :) And a bunch of cool ideas also! :) BTW How big is your budget for this event?

Somewhere between 0 and a few hundred dollars.

How about a couple Start Here robots?  They could be pre-programmed with simple avoidance or line-follow type programs. What the kids would do is "build" the robots.  I put that in quotes, because in this case, I am thinking the pieces could already be prepped with hook and loop strips in place of glue or double-stick tape. connectors attached to the power wires might be fixed to only plug in one way so nothing smokes, OR have built in diodes and the like, so they can plug it in wrong and learn by trial and error without zapping the controllers, etc. A little prep on the parts would still let the children see how easily small robots can be built, without suffering the problem of burning out too many parts in the process. That would get expensive too quickly.

There would also be a large table with walls around the sides to make a robot 'arena', where the robots are tested after being built.

The children might be in all age groups, so you would need to prep things to make them simple, so even the youngest can partake and learn. 

For the program end of it, pre-program the "brain chips" for the younger children, and for the slightly older and more adept, you might have "modular" programming, so these older children can actually program the robots themselves without the need of learning a whole program language in a few minutes time.  They would program the robots by selecting which module(s) to include. (Or have a volunteer who has been schooled in the programming and they would assist the children in how to select modules that will do what they want the robot to do.)

After a number of children have had their turns, the robots are then unplugged and disassembled for the next group to build. (rebuild).



I'd love to be able to have a bunch of 'start here' level robots available, but I have to get the cost down. I've actually talked to Ro-Bot-X about using his uBotino boards, which have everything I need on them and are a good price. However, I still need a good source for gearmotors, wheels, sensors, etc.

I'll keep this in mind. Maybe eliminate the range sensor and substitute a couple of bump switches. A few design compromises like that could really lower the cost.

I've looked at some of the graphics, code-block tools, and they are very promising for teaching the programming. Not all of them are ready for prime time, but I'm keeping an eye on them.

I love the idea of a testing table, where the kids can let the bots go wild. In fact, without that they'll probably have them running uncontrolled all over the floor or falling off tables. So that is now a requirement.

Earlier this year I facilitated three workshops for children on which they all made simple go-bots (when they are on, they just go, think bristebot/symet) solely out of the parts from old pagers. Their kits were a pager, coin cell battery, tape, and some loose wire. we also has other craft stuff on hand like pipe cleaners and colorful wire to add on for cooler features.  At the beginnig of the workshop, I told everyone what these pagers were when they were useful, and then told them that they were now really eggs for robots, and using recycling, we were going to hatch them and make them into our very own creatures.

It was an easy project, inexpensive and fun for kids to use their rampant imaginations to make a bug of their own design. One or two adults can handle the soldering well as there is only the task of solder two leads onto the pager motor tabs. The rest of the construction can be done with hot glue, or quick tack.

Pics of results: http://www.reuseum.com/2011/01/big-brothers-big-sisters-bot-building-workshop-1-22-11/

Hope this helps!