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Unit 10 Lesson 2: Robotics

If you’ve ever wondered how to build a real robot from junk, then you’re in the right place. Let’s start by taking a look at the highlights for understanding electricity, circuits, and components and how they all work together to form a working robot.

Now that you’ve got a good handle on circuits and electrical components, it’s time to pull it together into something useful, like building robots and sensors. Are you ready? Then let’s put your new ideas and electrical circuit building skills to the test…

You can get started by watching this video, and afterward either read more about it or start your experiments!

Scientific Concepts:

  • Robots are electro-mechanical devices, meaning that they rely on both electronics and mechanics to do their ‘thing’.
  • If a robot has sensors, it can react with its environment and have some degree of intelligence.
  • Sensors include switches, buzzers, and light detectors.
  • One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when building robots is friction.
  • A radio remote control has a transmitter and receiver that pass light beams to control the robot.
  • A wired remote control is a box usually containing the batteries and switches for the connected robot.


sctelecastScience Teleclass: Robotics
This is a recording of a recent live teleclass I did with thousands of kids from all over the world. I’ve included it here so you can participate and learn, too! Spark together electric motors, build homemade burglar alarms, wire up circuits and build your own robot from junk! Create your own whizzing, hopping, dancing, […]
twowheelerTwo-Wheeler Robot
If you’ve ever ridden a two-wheel bicycle, you know that you have to not only pedal to move forward, but also balance in order to stay upright while you move. Two wheeler robots are difficult to make because they need to balance in addition to carry out commands. The balance is done autonomously, meaning that […]
robotcableRobot Cable Car
A cable car transports people or things in a vehicle that uses a strong cable to pull at a steady speed. Also called aerial lift, aerial tramway, or gondola, these are different from the cable cars associated with San Francisco, which use buried cables to move the car up steep streets. The world’s longest working […]
fastferryFast Ferry
The ferryboat was one of the ways folks got from island to island. Usually ferries make quick, short trips from one spot to another, picking up cars, people, or packages and transporting them across the water. In Venice, you’ll hear the ferry also referred to as the “water bus” or “water taxi”.  Ferries that travel […]
twoversionTwo Versions of the Catamaran
Catamarans are boats with two or more hulls that are strapped together and move by either wind power (using sails) or engine power. They are one of the first boats humans ever floated in. Catamarans are used when speed and large payloads are needed: their interesting geometric design (their balance is based on geometry, not […]
This robot as a BIG version of the tiny Bristlebot robot. Using an eccentric drive motor, this robot will show you how a cell phone vibrates by using an off-center weight being slung around by a motor. We built these types of robots in all sizes: from tiny toothbrush versions all the way to large […]
amphibiousAmphibious Robot
Amphibious vehicles is a craft which travels on both land and water. And it doesn’t need to be limited to just cars. There are amphibious bicycles, buses, and RVs. Hovercraft are amphibious, too! Amphibious crafts started back in the 1800s as steam-powered barges. In the 1950s, the German Schimmwagen was a small jeep that could […]
robotvehicleAmphibious Robot Vehicle with Transmission
The image here is the 2003 Gibbs Aqauda at full speed in deep water! It looks like it’s just skipping along the surface, doesn’t it? The Gibbs company uses auto, marine, and propulsion technologies to build water-land vehicles used mostly by the military. But wouldn’t it save time to cut through the traffic on the […]
propellercarPropeller Car
The great news is that many of the problematic airplane troubles were figured out a long time ago by two amazing people: the Wright brothers. The Wright brothers also took an airfoil (a fancy word for “airplane wing”), turned it sideways, and rotated it around quickly to produce the first real propeller that could generate […]
grinderGrinder Gearworks
Have you tried sticking a plastic wheel straight onto a motor shaft to create a race car? The first thing you’ll find is that the shaft is usually so slick that it doesn’t stay attached to the wheel without a ton of glue. And IF you’re able to attach the wheel to the motor firmly, […]
bristleBristle Brush Bot
This is the simplest robot you can make… out of old parts from around the house. While this little robot doesn’t use energy from the sun or wind, we’ve placed it here with other alternative energy projects because the parts come from the trash bin. This project is an extension of the Jigglebot robot from […]
ROV stands for Remotely Operated Vehicle. These robots are used by scientists to explore the waters both offshore and in the deep sea, and often bring back samples and/or take video of their underwater findings. ROVs usually have a tether from the vehicle to the boat, which lightens up the load quite a bit (as […]
steerableSteerable Waterbot
After you make the Waterbot, you can create a two-motor version that you can steer using a remote control! Please login or register to read the rest of this content.
Ever wonder how a cell phone vibrates? What mechanism could be in such a tiny space to make the entire phone jiggle around? Well, there’s a tiny motor inside with an off-center weight on the shaft, called an eccentric drive. You can still see eccentric drive mechanisms in older steam engines where the rotational motion […]
This is a fun variation of the Jigglebot that uses markers for legs so it can scrawl you out a masterpiece as it entertains you with its curious dance. Please login or register to read the rest of this content.
If you have a pet, they’ll be sure to get a great workout chasing this nifty little robot. If you can, I totally encourage you to make two or more and have a contest! This BumperBot is one of the simplest robots you can make that uses a touch sensor, tricycle gear, and simple parts […]
carraceRace Cars
Racerbots can steer, unlike the Jigglebot. If you have more than one motor on your robot frame, you can turn either left, right, or spin on command. Wired remote control instructions follow this project. These racerbots are the toughest of these robots to build. The wheels need to be squarely set on their shafts, all […]
roboticRobotic Cookie Snatcher
Are cookies out of reach in your house? When I was a small kid, the top of the refrigerator seemed MILES away… until I built a robot arm out of toothbrushes, popsicle sticks, and cardboard to reach it for me! I’ve upgraded my old idea to include a motorized linear actuator so you can see […]
bugbotSuperfast Bug Bot
This project is advanced students. If you like tiny robots, then this one is for you! Powered by cheap hobby motors, this fast little robot zips ’round and avoids obstacles using momentary switches and an idler wheel for a tail. I recommend watching the entire video first, then rewind and watch again, this time building […]
underwaterUnderwater R.O.V. Robot
This project is for advanced students. Up until 200 years ago, people thought the oceans were bottomless.  The diving bell was one of the first recorded attempts at undersea exploration, and was simply a five-foot inverted cup with viewing holes on a platform that lowered into the water, which allowed people to breathe the trapped […]
pressurePressure Sensor Burglar Alarm
By controlling how and when a circuit is triggered, you can easily turn a simple circuit into a burglar alarm – something that alerts you when something happens. By sensing light, movement, weight, liquids, even electric fields, you can trigger LEDs to light and buzzers to sound. Your room will never be the same. Switches […]
latchingLatching Circuit
Once you’ve made the Pressure Sensor burglar alarm, you might be wondering how to make the alarm stay on after it has been triggered, the way the Trip Wire Sensor does. The reason this isn’t as simple as it seems is that the trip wire is a normally closed (NC) switch while the pressure sensor […]
tripTrip Wire Burglar Alarm
Burglar alarms not only protect your stuff, they put the intruder into a panic while they attempt to disarm the triggered noisemaker.  Our burglar alarms are basically switches which utilize the circuitry from Basic Circuits and clever tricks in conductivity. A complete and exhaustive description of electronics would jump into the physics of solid state […]
bonusRemote Controls I
Radio control (RC) is a 100 year-old technology. RC requires both a transmitter and a receiver. The control box sends commands to the robot the same way you change channels on the TV with the remote. The difference between RC (radio control) and IR (infrared control) is in the frequency of the signals. With the […]
week5Remote Controls II
If you’ve made the waterbot, you can use this wired remove to make the motor turn both forward and reverse. All you need is an extra set of wires (telephone cable with two wires in it work great, or else twist two long wires together… they can be as long as you want.) Enclose the […]
tiltsensorMore Sensors
If you want your robot to detect when it’s flipped sideways, this is the sensor you need. It’s ridiculously simple to make, and works great as long as the metal makes good contact. I’ve also included instructions for making a motion sensor as well, just in case you need to detect motion or acceleration. Please […]
saftelectElectrical Safety – A Note on the Best Batteries to Use
Before you reach for the pack of Duracells, watch our video on the best batteries to use when starting out with your electricity experiments. (The answer is much cheaper than you think.) Here’s what you need to know: Please login or register to read the rest of this content.