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Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art

Time Required Short (2-5 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability This project requires a DC motor and battery pack in addition to arts and crafts supplies. See the Materials tab for details.
Cost Low ($20 - $50)
Safety Adult supervision required. Glue guns can get very hot and cause burns. The robot's motor and attachments can spin very fast — keep hands and fingers away from the attachments when the motor is spinning.


It would be fun to have a friend robot that helps you create art, right? In this project you will create your own Art Bot, a robot with markers for legs that wobbles across a piece of paper, generating markings with its "feet" as it moves. The creature's motion comes from a spinning motor with an off-center weight, which causes the robot to vibrate. You can change the size and location of this weight, which will affect how the robot moves, and change how it draws. Then you get to decide which "drawing" is truly artistic!


Build a vibrating robot that generates drawings and investigate how attaching different weights to the motor changes the way it draws.


Ben Finio, Ph.D., Science Buddies

  • Styrofoam is a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company.
  • Solo is a registered trademark of The Solo Cup Company.
  • SparkFun is a registered trademark of SparkFun Electronics.

This project is based on the following:
Ceceri, K. (2012). How to Build an Art Bot. Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future with 20 Projects. Nomad Press.

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 23 May 2014. Web. 28 July 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Robotics_p014.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, May 23). Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Robotics_p014.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-05-23


Do you like to draw pictures and make art? Do you think it would be fun to build a friendly robot that can "draw"? In this project you will build a simple robot, like the one shown below, that moves with a spinning motor. The motor will have an off-center weight attached to it — so when it spins, the motor vibrates. This same idea is used to make video game controllers and cell phones vibrate — inside, they have little spinning motors with weights attached.

Robotics science project Art bot making a robot drawing.
Figure 1. After following these how-to instructions, Your art bot will look something like this one. Feel to dress it up any way you want. We chose some cute googly eyes, but a princess crown or monster fangs would make other fun costumes.

The vibration of the motor makes the robot wobble across the table. Robots that use vibrating motors to move are very common, and are sometimes called vibrobots. For example, you can use a toothbrush and a tiny motor to make a "BristleBot," and you can even use more than one motor to make a robot critter that follows the beam from a flashlight. These robots are not just used as toys, though — researchers at Harvard University use a robot called the Kilobot to study how large numbers of robots can interact in groups, just as ants in a colony or bees in a hive do.

In this science project you will use markers as legs for you robot — so when it wobbles across a piece of paper, it will "draw" by leaving different colored squiggles in its path. How you attach different objects to the robot's motor (the Wired.com example uses popsicle sticks) will affect how it moves. So using the Art Bot, you will create multiple pieces of art with different attachments, and compare the different creations. You can end your robotics engineering project with an art exhibition of all the nice work you created!

Terms and Concepts

  • Robot
  • Motor
  • Vibrate
  • Vibrobot


  • Why does a motor vibrate if you attach an off-center weight?
  • What is a vibrobot?
  • What other types of vibrobots exist?
  • How do you think your robot's movement will change if you attach different things to the motor?


Materials and Equipment

  • Toy DC motor that will operate at 3 volts (V). For example, this one is available from SparkFun® (operating range of 1.5 to 4.5 V). Important: Make sure you buy a motor with "leads attached"— this means wires are already attached to the motor, which will enable you to connect it to your battery pack.
  • Battery holder, 2xAAA. We recommend this one from SparkFun because it has a built-in power switch, which makes it easy to turn your robot on and off.
  • AAA batteries (2)
  • 16 ounce plastic cup
  • Popsicle sticks (at least 6)
  • Cork or Styrofoam® ball. Cork will work better but can be harder to find at craft stores.
  • Thin-size washable markers (3)
  • White 22 x 28-inch posterboard (at least 3 pieces)
  • Electrical tape (1 roll)
  • Double-sided foam tape (1 roll)
  • Glue gun — make sure an adult supervises if you use a normal hot glue gun, or use a low-temperature child-safe glue gun.
  • Optional: Arts and crafts materials to decorate your robot (googly eyes, pipe cleaners etc.)
Robotics science project materials needed to make an art bot
Figure 2. This image shows all the items you need to build your Art Bot, including (clockwise from top left): colored plastic cup (16-oz. size); Styrofoam ball; thin markers; glue gun; popsicle sticks; 2xAAA battery holder and two AAA batteries; 3 V toy motor; electrical tape; and double-sided foam tape.

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Experimental Procedure

Safety Warning: Adult supervision is required at all times when using a hot glue gun.

  1. Apply a small dab of glue to the tip of your motor's shaft. Quickly (before the glue dries) press your cork or Styrofoam ball onto the motor's shaft.
  2. Use the hot glue gun to attach one end of a single popsicle stick to the top of your cork or Styrofoam ball. See Figure 3 below.
Robotics science project ball and popsicle stick attached to art bot motor shaft
Figure 3. A Styrofoam ball with single popsicle stick glued on, both glued to the shaft of the motor.
  1. The plastic cup serves as your robot's "body." Using double-sided tape, electrical tape, and/or glue as needed, firmly attach your motor to the top of your robot (note that you must flip the cup upside down, so the base of the cup is the top of the robot). The best way to attach the motor will depend on its exact shape and if it has a flat bottom. See Figure 4 below for an example.
Robotics science project Art bot motor taped to cup
Figure 4. Use double-sided foam tape to attach the motor to the top of the robot (the base of the cup). Add electrical tape or glue if necessary to make sure it is stuck on firmly.
  1. Put the two AAA batteries in the battery pack. Make sure the switch on the battery pack is in the "off" position. Use electrical tape to strap the battery pack to the side of the cup. Twist the exposed metal ends of the motor wires and battery pack wires together (red to red and black to black). This lets electrical current flow from the batteries to the motor when the switch is on. See Figures 5 and 6 below.

    Note: If you did not purchase a battery pack with a built-in on/off switch, then do not twist both pairs of wires together yet. You can twist just one pair - but if you twist both, the motor will start spinning, and your robot is not ready yet!

Robotics science project art bot battery pack taped to cup
Figure 5. Use electrical tape to attach the battery pack to the side of the cup. (The black wires have not been twisted together yet in this image.)
Robotics science project wires twisted together to form electrical connection
Figure 6. The picture on the left shows a close up view of the red wire from the battery pack twisted together with the red wire of the motor. Optional: If you are having trouble twisting the wires together, you can use a binder clip to pinch them in place, as shown in the image on the right.
  1. Using electrical tape, attach the three markers (caps left on) to the sides of the cup, with their points facing downward. Make sure the markers are equally spaced around the cup, creating a stable tripod — it should not fall over when it is standing. See Figure 7 below.
Robotics science project art bot markers taped to cup
Figure 7. Use electrical tape to attach three markers, pointing down, to the sides of the cup.
  1. Decorate your robot! If you have arts and crafts supplies, be creative and use them to personalize your robot design, as shown in Figure 8 below.
Robotics science project completed art bot with googly eyes
Figure 8. A completed Art Bot, decorated with googly eyes.
  1. Place one sheet of posterboard flat on the floor, and put your robot in the middle. (You can do this on a tabletop or counter, but be very careful that your robot does not fall off the edge.) Make sure you have removed the caps from the markers, and turn the switch on the battery pack to "on". Safety note: Be sure to keep your hands and fingers clear of the spinning popsicle stick, which can give a painful whack. Ask an adult to turn the robot on if you need help. Now, sit back and watch your Art Bot create its first piece of art! (If your robot falls over or the motor does not spin, see step 11 below for troubleshooting help).

    Note: If you did not purchase a battery pack with a built-in on/off switch, you should now twist the ends of the second pair of wires together. Be careful, the motor will start spinning as soon as you make an electrical connection between the wires.

  2. Once you are satisfied with your Art Bot's first creation, turn it off, either with the on/off switch or by untwisting one pair of wires. Before starting a new drawing, you need to change the position of the object attached to the motor somehow, or attach a new object. Feel free to be inventive with this step and come up with your own ideas. Just be sure to use glue (and ask an adult to help with the hot glue gun) and attach objects securely. You do not want objects flying off your robot while it is spinning! Figure 9 below shows different things you could try just using popsicle sticks, but you can use other objects as well.
Robotics science project different ways to attach popsicle sticks to art bot
Figure 9. Different options for attaching weights to the motor shaft using popsicle sticks and glue. Notice that you can change both the number and location (centered or off-center) of popsicle sticks.
  1. Take a new piece of posterboard (or use the back of your first piece, if you want to save paper) and repeat Step 7 with the newly weighted Art Bot. After you turn the robot off, compare this new drawing to your first one. Did anything change?
  2. Repeat steps 7-9 as many times as you would like. Do you notice any patterns emerging? What happens if you use a different number of popsicle sticks (or other objects of your choice), but keep them all centered? What happens if you use different numbers of off-center popsicle sticks? Does the robot tend to move around faster in some cases than in others? Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you experiment:
    1. Keep track of your observations in a table in your lab notebook. For each art bot design you will want to keep notes on the movement speed and art styles. For example, does the Art Bot make a repeating pattern like circles or does the art trail seem random? You can also keep track of which art style(s) you prefer.
    2. Remember to change one variable at a time. That means you should first compare how the Art Bot performs when you change either the number of popsicle sticks or the location of the stick(s). If you want to compare how it performs with no sticks, two sticks centered and one stick off-center you should also gather data for one popsicle stick centered and two popsicle sticks off-centered so you have tests that show what happens when you change just one of the variables (location of stick or stick number) at a time.
    3. If you need or want to show your data as a graph, assign each of your observations a numerical value. For example, the speed of the Art Bot could be a 0 if it does not move, a 1 for moving slow, a 2 for moving at a medium speed, and a 3 for moving fast. Similarly, art pattern could be described as 0 through 2 for no pattern, a vague pattern, or a very repeatable pattern.
  3. Troubleshooting:
    1. If your motor does not spin at all, make sure you have twisted together the exposed metal ends of the wires from the motor and battery pack. You can use binder clips to "pinch" the wires together to strengthen the connection if needed. You can also use scissors (or wire strippers, if you have them) to strip some of the rubber insulation off the end of the wire, exposing more metal and making it easier to twist them together.
    2. If your robot falls over, you can use extra popsicle sticks as supports to prevent it from falling. See Figure 9 below for an example.
Robotics science project art bot with popsicle stick supports
Figure 10. Glue extra popsicle sticks diagonally to the sides of the Art Bot, to act as supports and keep it from falling over. If you do this, make sure the tips of your markers still touch the drawing surface.

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  • What happens if you use more than three markers?
  • What happens if you build a new Art Bot, using something other than a cup for the body? Can you create your own robot body out of popsicle sticks and glue?
  • What happens if you change the direction the motor is facing? Make sure the popsicle stick does not collide with the body of your robot if you do this.
  • If you're ready to build a more advanced art-creating robot, check out our Robot Picasso project.

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