Hardware Hump Day: 3 Easy Robots You Can Build This Weekend

Easy builds from around the web that even a robot novice can tackle

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Robotics can be an intimidating hobby, even for people who are already proficient in electronics. The good news is that not all robots are complicated mechanical undertakings. In fact, I’ve put together this trio of robot projects that I think are great ways to dip your toe into the world of robotics. So without any further ado, let’s jump right in!

The Beetlebot

The Beetlebot is a classic beginner project, and if you’re scrappy you might even be able to piece one together from parts already laying around your workbench. While arguably more like a wind-up toy than a robot, the Beetlebot does introduce some of the mechanical techniques that are central to hobby robotics. I also think that the circuit used is very clever and gives the “robot” a characteristically frenzied type of behavior. Bonus points for the very knowledgeable (and adorable) presenter in the video below:

Careful, that hot glue is hot! In case you don’t happen to have all of these parts kicking around already, I’ve listed a few SparkFun parts below that you can use to build your very own Beetlebot.

Battery Holder 2xAA with Cover and Switch

PRT-09547
1.5
Micro Gearmotor - 4900 RPM (6-12V)

ROB-12408
12.95
Mini Microswitch - SPDT (Lever, 2-pack)

COM-13013
3.95
Wheel 32x7mm

ROB-08901
6.95

Popsicle Stick Robot Arm

In yesterday’s blog post, Shawn wrote about building a Yagi antenna out of popsicle sticks. As it turns out, popsicle sticks can be used for all kinds of fun DIY projects including the robotic arm in the video below. YouTube user “Zebra Comet” is using a Pololu Micro Maestro to drive his robotic arm, but there’s no reason you couldn’t drop in a RedBoard instead with some sensors and pre-programmed behavior.

This project really takes the cake for lowest parts count. Other than the two products below, all you really need is a bag of popsicle sticks from the craft supply and a good hot glue gun. This one is a fun reminder that robots don’t have to be made out of space-age materials to be effective and fun to play with.

Servo - Generic (Sub-Micro Size)

ROB-09065
8.95
7
Micro Maestro 6-channel USB Servo Controller

ROB-09664
19.95
1

The RedBox Robot

The RedBox Robot Kit was a limited-edition parts kit that we sold on Cyber Monday last year, but it was so popular that we may one day revive it. In the meantime, you can still buy all of the parts and follow along on the hookup guide to build your own. I based the RedBox Robot off of a “Recycled Robot Dance Party” activity that our Education department likes to do for classrooms and workshops. Using a cardboard box (in this case, a red SparkFun box) as the chassis for the robot makes it sturdy and less expensive. It also leaves a lot of room for customization. Even though I wrote the tutorial guide, I don’t think I could walk you through it quite as well as this video by YouTube’s “Tech-nic-Allie”:

Thanks for the stellar review, Tech-nic-Allie! That was a super clean build; we’d expect nothing less from someone who took the time to nicely Knoll the parts before starting. We’re glad you liked the kit!

While this bot definitely has more parts than the other two, the documentation make this an easy bot in my (admittedly biased) opinion. Also, the Redbox Robot is built around the SparkFun RedStick development board, which means you can reprogram it to add all kinds of functionality once the basic build is complete.

Ultrasonic Sensor - HC-SR04

SEN-13959
3.95
SparkFun Motor Driver - Dual TB6612FNG (1A)

ROB-09457
4.95
15
Hobby Gearmotor - 200 RPM (Pair)

ROB-13302
3.95
Mini Speaker - PC Mount 12mm 2.048kHz

COM-07950
1.95
5
Wheel - 65mm (Rubber Tire, Pair)

ROB-13259
2.95
1
SparkFun RedStick

DEV-13741
19.95
6
Battery Holder 3xAA with Cover and Switch

PRT-10891
1.95
Super Bright LED - Red 10mm

COM-08862
1.5
1

So that’s my top three easy robots roundup! Whether you’re looking for an activity to do with a young beginner or just a fun little project that you can put together in a day, all of these are a good place to start. Remember, robots don’t have to be complicated to be fun, so why not pick up a few parts and start your robot army this weekend?


Comments 3 comments

  • Two quick thoughts:

    First, before you head off to the “craft supply” to get the bag of popsicle sticks (or, for that matter, a glue gun and glue sticks and/or other supplies) be sure to check the Sunday newspaper and/or the snail-junk-mail for coupons. Most weeks they have coupons along the lines of “40% off any one item”, and I have seen them as much as “60% off any one item”!

    Second thought: in the video for the Redbox Robot, she appeared to be using a “third hand” to solder headers onto some of the parts. I really like the tip that many of the Adafruit tutorials suggest: plug the headers into a solderless breadboard to hold them aligned for soldering. It’s especially handy when you have to get two rows of headers aligned (so that they’ll plug into a breadboard).

  • The beetle bot is a favorite of mine. I helped my daughter build one when she was 5 and I have helped cub scouts do them for their activity on evening. They are great for sparking that desire to know and do more! The useless machine belongs on the list too, but I have yet to make one. That would be great for someone with access to a laser or 3D printer.

    • Although I agree that making a Useless Machine would be a good demonstration of a laser cutter or a 3D printer, not having these should not stop one from making the Useless Machine. I did mine using a coping saw to cut some scrap ¼" plywood for the “arm”, and the box came from the “craft supply” (with a good discount coupon!) (modified using a handsaw). The switches and battery holder were “junk box”, likely originally from Radio Shack, and the motor was purchased for the project from Solarbotics (note that they’re in Canada, so your credit card company may hit you with a “foreign transaction fee”).

      I’ve found that the Useless Machine is a wonderful way to attract the attention of people ranging from 5 to those who are well past the 55th anniversary of their 5th birthday…

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