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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Fine. My son soldered to the two contacts on the motor. I cleaned them first with a pencil eraser. I don't like soldering to batteries, so we used double sided foam tape to attach to the battery. We made a little hook and latch switch with two ends of tinned wire and off we went.

Foam tape is proof that we are loved, and should be happy. :)  I've been using the brassish looking spring and contacter soldered onto the motor leads. You are right one should never solder to batteries. Who would want to heat those up anyways?

The museum director is actually worried about using the coin cell batteries, because younger children might swallow them. I may see how well a AA works.

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.


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

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!

 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'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.