Design and 3D-Print Your Own Robot! *
|Time Required||Short (2-5 days)|
|Material Availability||Specialty materials are required. See project description for details.|
|Cost||Average ($40 - $80)|
AbstractScience Buddies has several fun robotics projects, like the Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art and Grasping with Straws: Make a Robot Hand Using Drinking Straws, where you use arts and crafts materials to make part of a robot. Have you ever wanted to design a more-advanced, sturdier, or fancier looking robot? Then computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing might be for you; both are simpler than you think! The directions on this page will give you an introduction to these technologies so you can design and print your own robot. Figure 1 shows an arts-and-crafts version of an Art Bot next to a version designed for 3D printing in a CAD program.
Figure 1. (Left) An arts-and-crafts version of the "Art Bot" robot with a plastic cup for a body. (Right) An Art Bot with an insect-shaped body designed in a CAD program (image credit Autodesk Inc., 2014).
We will give you a brief introduction to CAD and 3D printing, then tell you how to get started designing your own printable robot body.
Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
Engineers and designers use CAD to make computer drawings and models of mechanical things like robots, cars, and airplanes, as well as things you see around you every day like jewelry, toys, and cell phones. This process used to be done by hand, but the invention of computers allowed engineers to edit and update their designs much more quickly; it is much easier to delete a line on a computer than to erase a line on a piece of paper! Today, there are many different types of CAD programs, ranging from simple programs used by young students and hobbyists, to advanced programs used by professional designers and engineers. Figure 2 shows a screenshot of professional CAD software called Inventor.
Figure 2. Autodesk Inventor is a professional-grade CAD program used by engineers to design things like cars, computers, and jewelry. This screenshot shows an engine (image credit Autodesk Inc., 2014)
Big, expensive 3D printers have been available to large corporations for decades, but smaller, cheaper ones have only recently become available to consumers. 3D printers are machines that can rapidly "print" a three-dimensional object using a design file from a CAD program. There are many different types of 3D printers. Some 3D printers extrude melted plastic through a nozzle (much like a soft-serve ice cream machine dispenses ice cream). The plastic quickly solidifies when it comes in contact with the cool air, gradually building up a solid object, one layer at a time. Other 3D printers use lasers to fuse together bits of a plastic or metal powder, and other types use ultraviolet light to solidify a liquid called a photopolymer. 3D printers come in all shapes and sizes, from hobbyist machines the size of a microwave to big industrial machines the size of a refrigerator. Figure 3 shows a large industrial printer and a small desktop printer. The video below them shows a time-lapse of 3D printing from the Science Buddies project Squishy Robots: Build an Air-Powered Soft Robotic Gripper.
Figure 3. (Left) A large industrial 3D printer. Note the computers on the floor next to it and the office chair in the background for scale (image credit Wikimedia Commons user Zorro2212, 2013). (Right) A small tabletop 3D printer (image credit Wikimedia Commons user Semenko, 2013).
Designing and 3D-printing Your Own Robot
So, after reading about CAD and 3D printing, do you think you are ready to try designing and printing your own robot? If so, the first step is to decide what type of robot you are going to build.
- If this is your first time using CAD or 3D printing, we suggest starting with the Art Bot: Build a Wobbly Robot Friend That Creates Art project. This is a simple type of "vibrobot" that uses a battery to power a vibrating motor that makes the robot wobble along, but without any real steering or "intelligence." A Bristlebot Robotics Kit with the electronic parts for this project is available from our partner Home Science Tools.
- If you are ready for a more-advanced robotics project, check out BlueBot: 4-in-1 Robotics Kit. Several of the projects involve using craft materials like popsicle sticks or cardboard tubes to attach sensors to the robot's body. Can you design 3D-printed attachments instead?
Once you have chosen the type of robot you will build (see the links above for the circuit parts you will need), you need to find a CAD program to use. Which program you use will depend on your level of experience and budget, but here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Free programs like TinkerCAD and SketchUp are generally aimed at beginners. They will run in a web browser on most computers and include helpful tutorials to get you started.
- Check with your school, a local library, a makerspace, or nearby university to see if any of them have access to CAD software that you can use for a science project.
- Some professional CAD programs, like Inventor or Solidworks, offer free or heavily discounted student versions (professional versions can cost thousands of dollars). While these programs are more powerful than free programs like TinkerCAD and SketchUp, they are also more difficult to learn, and require more powerful computers to run. These programs are only recommended if you have previous experience with CAD software, or a lot of time to go through tutorials and learn how to use them.
Finally, you can make or order a 3D-printed version of your design. If you do not have access to a 3D printer, there are several online vendors that will print out your design and mail it to you (for example, in Tinkercad, select the "Design" menu, then "Order a 3D print"). However, even if you do not have a 3D printer at home, you may be able to find access to one in your area. Many schools and public libraries now have 3D printers, and a makerspace may let you use their printer for a fee, or for free if you are a member. Ask an adult to help you look around to find a 3D printer that you can use in your area.
Cite This PageGeneral citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.
Last edit date: 2018-05-22
Here are some general background references about CAD and 3D printing:
- Crawford, S. (n.d.). How 3-D Printing Works. HowStuffWorks. Retrieved July 19, 2014, from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/3-d-printing.htm
- Wikipedia Contributors. (2014, July 18). 3D Printing. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 19, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=3D_printing&oldid=617496906
- Wikipedia Contributors. (2014, July 19). Computer-aided design. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 19, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Computer-aided_design&oldid=617587242
Autodesk software and resources are available from the following links:
- Tinkercad. (n.d.). Tinkercad: Create 3D digital designs with online CAD. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from tinkercad.com
- Autodesk. (n.d.). Autodesk: 123D Design. Retrieved May 21, 2018, from www.autodesk.com/solutions/123d-apps
- Autodesk. (n.d.). Inventor Professional for Education. Retrieved July 31, 2014, from autodesk.com/education/free-software/inventor-professional
News Feed on This Topic
Recommended Project Supplies
Remember Your Display Board Supplies
Poster Making Kit
ArtSkills Trifold with Header
Ask an ExpertThe Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.
Ask an Expert
Contact UsIf you have purchased a kit for this project from Science Buddies, we are pleased to answer your questions.
In your email, please follow these instructions:
- What is your Science Buddies kit order number?
- Please describe how you need help as thoroughly as possible:
Good Question I'm trying to do Experimental Procedure step #5, "Scrape the insulation from the wire. . ." How do I know when I've scraped enough?
Good Question I'm at Experimental Procedure step #7, "Move the magnet back and forth . . ." and the LED is not lighting up.
Bad Question I don't understand the instructions. Help!
Good Question I am purchasing my materials. Can I substitute a 1N34 diode for the 1N25 diode called for in the material list?
Bad Question Can I use a different part?
If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
Robotics EngineerHave you watched "The Transformers" cartoon series or seen the "Transformers" movies? Both shows are about how good and evil robots fight each other and the humans who get in the middle. Many TV shows and movies show robots and humans interacting with each other. While this is, at present, fantasy, in real life robots play a helpful role. Robots do jobs that can be dangerous for humans. For example, some robots defuse landmines in war-stricken countries; others work in harsh environments like the bottom of the ocean and on the planet Mars. At the heart of every robot is a robotics engineer who thinks about what a robot needs to do and works with several engineering disciplines to design and put together the perfect piece of equipment. Read more
Mechanical EngineerMechanical engineers are part of your everyday life, designing the spoon you used to eat your breakfast, your breakfast's packaging, the flip-top cap on your toothpaste tube, the zipper on your jacket, the car, bike, or bus you took to school, the chair you sat in, the door handle you grasped and the hinges it opened on, and the ballpoint pen you used to take your test. Virtually every object that you see around you has passed through the hands of a mechanical engineer. Consequently, their skills are in demand to design millions of different products in almost every type of industry. Read more
CAD TechnicianCAD (computer-aided design) technicians combine art and engineering to prepare the technical drawings and plans from which everything in the world is made—from toys to toasters, houses to hoses, satellites to sewer systems. CAD technicians are essential to the design and construction of everything you see around you. Read more
Electrical & Electronics EngineerJust as a potter forms clay, or a steel worker molds molten steel, electrical and electronics engineers gather and shape electricity and use it to make products that transmit power or transmit information. Electrical and electronics engineers may specialize in one of the millions of products that make or use electricity, like cell phones, electric motors, microwaves, medical instruments, airline navigation system, or handheld games. Read more
News Feed on This Topic
Looking for more science fun?
Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.Find an Activity