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've been pretty stubborn about letting go of having some sort of cool robot that is low-cost but interesting. I've run down the bristlebot idea and decided a phototropic battery powered version is becoming reasonable. I've super simplified from the costly beast I made and am opting for this setup:


Two brushes, two motors, two diodes, two photo resistors. I believe a 3V Li+ coin cell would be sufficient. Connect the brushes with some cardstock that can be "arty-ed" up to look like a critter of some kind. I'd solder the leads onto the motors before hand. Hold the whole creation together with good-ole doublesided tape. I've got the cost looking something like:

motors: $2

battery: $1/$0 (I can have my employer supply them as an unknown "corporate donation")

CdS cells: $2

Tape and body materials: <$1

Toothbrushes: ????

I know they give away toothbrushes at dentists but would they be cool with me grabbing a handfull now and again? It's possible. In case they don't I'm curious to hear if anyone knows of cheap, plentiful toothbrush sources.

The closer I can get to keeping these guys around $5 the greater the chance of being able to send them home with their builders. I really dig that idea.

I like it. Droping the solar cell saves some cost and makes the whole thing less fragile and easier to balance. It is more interesting than just a one motor/one brush bot, since it can follow light. I guess I'd need a bunch on cheap LED flashlights on hand as well, so the kids can play with the bots.

I found websites that sell packs of toothbrushes, which are pretty cheap. I've heard that you want one of the newer style brushes that have the bristles at an angle, rather than an old fashioned one with the bristles at 90 degress to the brush. Any thoughts on that? How particular do I need to be about the brushes?

Nice idea! I'll have to search for cheap sources for a bunch of pager motors and tooth brushes!

We can even add some googly eyes and paste 'em on for some extra fun. Maybe some markers to let the kids customize their bristlebot.

Electronic Goldmine has the lowest priced vibrating motors I've seen @ $.89. Make a post if you find them for cheaper!

Heh. I went right to the Electronic Goldmine after my last post and checked those out. They are sitting in my wishlist along with another motor that comes with a 3V coin battery for something like $1.37.

I just received the pager motor and battery combo I ordered from Electronic Goldmine. The motor is soooo tiny; it is smaller than other pager motors I have seen. The battery that comes with it dwarfs it, but still fits OK on a toothbrush head.

I tested it out on a quickly built bristlebot, and it works fine. I think this is the winning combo. I think I will add pipe-cleaner legs for better stability and direction control, and some googly eyes for personality.

that has replacable heads and it vibrates via a small pager motor w/ an offset weight. Not exactly a cheap choice, but, it is all available in a single package.

I'll check that out, but cheap is going to be a necessity, since I won't have much of a budget. I'd like to be able to let the kids keep their creations, so whatever I spend on bristlebots won't be reusable.

Careful IG!

Museums enjoy a reputation for boring children. If you make them interesting then you will ruin their reputation!

Give it all you've got!!!

I'll do my best. It's fun to get some input from you guys.

OddBot, you've done lots of demos at schools and such haven't you? Any advice? Other than, 'don't be boring'?