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Design and 3D-Print Your Own Robot! *

Difficulty
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Average ($40 - $80)
Safety No issues
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.

Abstract

Science 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.
ArtBot  Art Bot designed in Tinkercad
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.

Engine designed in Autodesk 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)

3D Printing

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.

Object Eden 350 3D printer  Ultimaker 3D printer
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).


This time-lapse video shows the 3D printing of an object from start to finish. This video is from the Science Buddies project Squishy Robots: Build an Air-Powered Soft Robotic Gripper.
This time-lapse video shows the 3D printing of an object from start to finish. This video is from the Science Buddies project Squishy Robots: Build an Air-Powered Soft Robotic Gripper. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NG6qTSzCNoQ

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 kit with the electronic parts for this project is available from Science Buddies.
  • If you are ready for a more-advanced robotics project, check out the Science Buddies BlueBot Projects. 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), decide on a CAD program in which to design your robot body or accessories. Depending on your experience level, there are different CAD programs you can use, and tutorials are available for each one (note: each of the following programs will require creating a free Autodesk.com account):

  • Tinkercad is for first-time CAD users. If you have no previous experience with a CAD program, we recommend starting out with Tinkercad. You can run Tinkercad in your web browser at tinkercad.com. Once you have created an account and logged in, click the "Learn" button at the top of the page. Follow the on-screen tutorials to learn how to use Tinkercad.
  • 123D Design is for intermediate CAD users. If you are comfortable using Tinkercad and want to try something more advanced, then you can move up to 123D Design. You can download a desktop version of 123D design from 123dapp.com/design. To learn how to use 123D Design, follow the quick start guide and video tutorials on this page: 123dapp.com/howto/design.
  • Autodesk Inventor is for advanced CAD users. Try Inventor when you are ready for full-fledged professional CAD software. Inventor is the same program used by real-world engineers to design everything from cars and airplanes to computers and cell phones. As a student, you can download a free version of Inventor from autodesk.com/education/free-software/inventor-professional. Once you have installed Inventor, use the program's Help menu to access tutorials and learning resources.

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. You could also look for a "maker space," which is a type of community center that teaches technology classes and offers access to tools like 3D printers to the public. Ask an adult to help you look around to find a 3D printer that you can use in your area.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Finio, Ben. "Design and 3D-Print Your Own Robot!" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 28 July 2017. Web. 20 Sep. 2017 <https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Robotics_p025/robotics/design-and-3d-print-your-own-robot>

APA Style

Finio, B. (2017, July 28). Design and 3D-Print Your Own Robot!. Retrieved September 20, 2017 from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Robotics_p025/robotics/design-and-3d-print-your-own-robot

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Last edit date: 2017-07-28

Bibliography

Here are some general background references about CAD and 3D printing:

Autodesk software and resources are available from the following links:

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