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Vibrobots— Tiny Robots from Scratch

Summary

Grade Range
3rd-5th
Group Size
1-2 students
Active Time
60 minutes
Total Time
60 minutes
Area of Science
Robotics
Key Concepts
Electricity, circuits, energy, engineering
Credits
Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies
Example images of vibrobots made from household materials

Vibrobots can be made from a wide variety of materials such as pipe cleaners, paper, paperclips, toothpicks and bottle caps.

Overview

Vibrobots are tiny robots powered by a vibrating motor, like the type found in cell phones. In this lesson plan, your students will learn about engineering design as they build their own vibrobots from craft materials. No previous experience with robots is required!

Learning Objectives

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.
Crosscutting Concepts
Systems and System Models. A system is a group of related parts that make up a whole and can carry out functions its individual parts cannot.

Materials

A coin cell battery, toothbrush head, vibration motor, and double sided tape

For each student or small group of students building a robot, you will need these items in the Bristlebot Robotics Kit from our partner Home Science Tools (also available as a Classroom Kit specially priced for teachers):

For the entire class, you will need assorted craft materials, such as:

Disclaimer: Science Buddies participates in affiliate programs with Home Science Tools, Amazon.com, Carolina Biological, and Jameco Electronics. Proceeds from the affiliate programs help support Science Buddies, a 501(c)(3) public charity, and keep our resources free for everyone. Our top priority is student learning. If you have any comments (positive or negative) related to purchases you've made for science projects from recommendations on our site, please let us know. Write to us at scibuddy@sciencebuddies.org.

Background Information for Teachers

This section contains a quick review for teachers of the science and concepts covered in this lesson.

Have you ever noticed how your cell phone might move slightly if it vibrates while sitting on a hard surface? Inside the phone there is a tiny motor that causes the vibrations. The motor is powered by a battery, which stores electrical energy. The same type of motor is also used in video game controllers to make them vibrate.

In this project, your students will build a simple circuit by connecting a small battery to a vibration motor. They will attach their circuit to the body of a robot that they build from craft materials. The vibrating motor will make the robot buzz around like a bug. However, they have to be careful—all those vibrations can make the robot wobbly and prone to falling over, or even fall apart. They will use the engineering design process to build a sturdy robot that can move around without falling over. The engineering design process is iterative, meaning you might go through the steps more than once. Many times, students' robots will not work well on the first try. They will have to test, redesign, and retest them until they can get a working robot.

In order to help your class build their robots, it will help to understand some basic terms about electrical circuits. The battery and the motor each have two wires, as shown in Figure 1.

  • When only one set of wires is connected as shown in the top of Figure 1, it is called an open circuit. There is no complete path for electricity to flow, so the motor will not vibrate.
  • When both pairs of wires are connected as shown in the middle of Figure 1, it is called a closed circuit. Electricity can flow in a complete loop from the battery and through the motor, and the motor will vibrate.
  • When the battery wires touch each other as shown in the bottom of Figure 1, it is called a short circuit. Short circuits are bad because they will drain the battery very quickly and even cause it to get hot.
Wiring diagrams of a battery and motor showing an open circuit, closed circuit and short circuit

A battery must be correctly connected to a motor for both to function properly. In an open circuit there is no connection between the wires of a battery and motor so the motor receives no power. In a closed circuit the positive and negative leads are connected and the motor receives power. If the positive and negative leads between a battery and motor are crossed then a short circuit occurs and the motor receives no power.


Figure 1. Open, closed, and short circuits.

The battery in this project does not have an on/off switch. So, to turn the robots "off," you will need to disconnect one set of wires to make an open circuit. To turn the robots "on," you will need to reconnect the wires to form a closed circuit.

Prep Work (10 minutes)

Engage (5 minutes)

Explore (45 minutes)

Reflect (10 minutes)

Assess

Make Career Connections

Lesson Plan Variations

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