What do you get when you combine a toothbrush head, a pager motor, a straw, a rubber band and a battery?
Q: What do you get when you take a toothbrush head, a pager motor, a drinking straw, a rubber band and a AAA battery, and stick them all together? A: A brushbot, just about the coolest premise for a kids’ program ever!
Well, maybe that’s a little over the top, but I thought they were pretty cool when I found them while searching for STEM and makerspace program projects earlier this year. Then my daughter brought a couple home from 4-H camp, and I was on board.
What are they? Brushbots are easy-to-assemble mechanical toys powered by a vibrating pager motor that move them across relatively smooth surfaces, such as tables and floors. Kids, once they've put together a basic bot, can experience all sorts of programs themed to challenge their creativity and problem-solving skills.
Here at Mid-Continent Public Library, we are just beginning to develop programming with these crazy little bots. There are several companies that market all the brushbot components in kits, or they can be purchased separately in bulk. We opted to order kits from Easybotics.
Brushbots hit all the marks that I look for in a library program project. They are a crafty and just plain silly way to stealthily teach kids stuff. They're kind of like wiggly little TEDTalks. Once kids power them up by connecting the pager motor wire to battery, brushbots just go any random direction. That’s when the learning starts.
Just how do you get a brushbot under control? With a few adjustments you can help a brushbot find its direction in life. By adjusting one motor wire to just barely brush the tabletop (no pun intended), a brushbot turns graceful circles. Add a few pipe cleaners and it not only becomes an engineering challenge but a crawly work of art. Bend or trim the brush bristles and all sorts of things can happen.
Here are a few of the activities a search can turn up:
- Create a Creature: Given a variety of materials — paper, pipe cleaners, wiggly eyes, puff balls — kids can customize their bots and make them unique creatures.
- Brushbot Olympics: Kids experiment to make it possible for their bot to compete in Olympic events, such as figure skating, the 100-meter mini-dash or sumo wrestling.
- Bot Bowling/Godzilla Bot: Kids use their bots to knock over pins, blocks and small cities.
- Bot Jousting: Brushbots are outfitted with straws or sticks that serve as lances. Competitors place their bots in a jousting course and try to knock one another over.
There are probably program ideas that haven’t been thought up yet. If you’ve brought brushbots to your library programming lineup, share what you did with the bots and how it went over with your audiences.
In the meantime, I’ll be building my brushbot army.