The word bristlebot may make you think about movie robots such as R2-D2. But a quick online search will confirm that this robot bears little similarity with iconic robotic characters. A bristlebot is a simple robot that forms an important part of the educational system to teach kids more about the wonders of robotics.
They are used as the starting point for little budding scientists. Even for kids who do not intend to go into science, bristlebots can improve their analytical thinking and key problem-solving skills. They show kids how different components come together to set a robot in motion and how they can control aspects like precision in a machine.
What is a Bristlebot?
A bristlebot is a mini robot created with a toothbrush head. They are called so because they bounce along on the bristles of the brush. A bristle bot moves on a flat surface in linear motion, the same way an electric toothbrush vibrates.
They are a type of vibrobots that are powered by clockwork or elastic motors. Being the simplest of robots, educators do not mix them with complex motor systems at the first attempt.
How To Make a Bristlebot
There are many good bristlebot kits available online that you can purchase. It is also possible to create your own bristlebot from scratch if you have the right supplies. Here is what you will need:
- A vibrating motor
- A button battery cell
- A toothbrush
- Googly eyes
- Pipe cleaners
- Glue or double-sided tape
Once you have gathered your supplies, here is what you need to do in order to build a bristlebot:
1. Prep the Toothbrush
Separate the toothbrush head from its long handle. Take a pair of cutting pliers and cut off the head from the handle. Use a scissor to give it a better shape and scrap a little if needed.
2. Equip it with the Motor
Turn the brush head over and stick a piece of double-sided tape over it. You can also apply some glue if there is no tape. Now, take your vibrating motor and mount it on the brush. Be sure to place one wire on the tape and the other in the air. Keep the end of the taped wire exposed.
3. Install the Battery
Take the button battery cell and place it, negative side down, above the exposed part of the motor wire. Make sure that the battery and motor wire make stable contact with each other and the +ive (red) and -ive (black) terminals are connected correctly.
4. Decorate your Bristlebot
Now that the basic structure is ready, you can start putting on decorations to personalize your bristlebot. Take different colored pipe cleaners and place them over the toothbrush head to mimic its legs. Placing them this way also gives the robot some much-needed stability. You can bend them down and around the robot. You can also stick googly eyes or other decorations as per your liking. People also attach plastic legs to the sides of the bot for more stability, but it is an optional step.
5. Tape the Other Wire To the Battery
And that is it, your bristlebot is ready to roll! You can fire yours up by bending the motor wire you left up in the air towards the positive terminal of the battery and taping it there. Your bristlebot will come to life and start moving and buzzing around.
Now that you have learned how to make a bristlebot, let us tell you what you can do with it.
Not every bristlebot moves in the same way. The shape of the brush head as well as the direction of bristles determines how this simple robot moves. You can use this aspect to hold a bot race between the kids. Set up a starting point and a finish line and have the kids compete their bristlebots against each other
Since they are equipped with vibrating motors, bristlebots also move in a bouncy, vibratory manner. You can make use of this feature and have your bristlebot create artworks with the help of a little paint.
Take a cardboard box and lay the paper you want to create the masterpiece on. Squeeze a small amount of paint in the center of the canvas. Now place your brushbot on the paint and turn it on. The bot will move all over the paper spreading the paint and creating a unique robot painting.
Alternatively, you can dip the bristles in craft paint and let your minibot go wild. Be sure to conduct this activity inside the box or any other protected area because the bot roams everywhere and it will get the paint on things you don’t want painted.
Customize and Decorate
Brushbots are a good way to keep your little ones occupied. You can help them create one of their own and have them decorate it themselves. Give them a variety of materials — wiggly eyes, puff balls, paper, colorful pipe cleaners, etc.. The kids can use these to customize their simple robots and turn them into unique creatures.
You can organize a tournament of brushbot jousting by letting kids equip their minibots with straws and sticks. These will serve as lances to knock the competing bot over. Create a jousting course where the opponents place their robots and try to beat each other.
The majority of kids love bowling. However, it is difficult to have a bowling competition at home. You can give this sport a fun twist with a bristlebot. For this purpose, you will need small items such as pins, buttons, blocks, etc. Place them strategically around the brushbot and set it off. The minibot will knock over anything that comes in its way. The person who’s robot knocks over the most wins.
Troubleshooting a Bristlebot
If your bristlebot suddenly stops functioning, it usually happens either because of a dead battery or because one of the wires is not properly attached to the battery. Try reconnecting the wires first. If it still does not work, try changing the battery as button cells don’t last forever. If wires are connected properly and the battery is also fine, you might want to try the following:
- The motor wire may have sunk down too much into the foam tape, removing contact with the battery. Dig the tip out to make the bristlebot work again.
- Sometimes, the clear tape stops accommodating the motor wire. In this situation, you’ll just require a new piece of tape.
It’s better to let the young ones figure out the issue themselves, which can be a a great learning experience for them and teaches them to troubleshoot things. That being said, feel free to give them some hints.
A bristlebot may be a simple machine, but it teaches us a lot about mechanics and electricity. The way it converts electrical energy into motion is mesmerizing. The more powerful the motor you use, the faster and more fluid its movement will be.
Making one of these is very simple and easy. You need just a few supplies to get it going. There are lots of bristlebot kits available too, which you can purchase to make one for your kiddos or for yourself. And there is no limit to how creative you can get while customizing yours.