Okay, so technically this is not a robot. It doesn’t have any sensors. It doesn’t have a controller or computer chip. It isn’t responding directly to external stimuli. But, hey, you have to start somewhere and my kindergartener definitely thought our homemade wigglebot was cool. He was so excited by our wiggly, spinning, little motorized guy that he’s already making big plans for our next “robot”, which he says will have arms. (I had to explain to him that, unfortunately, I did NOT know how to make microbots like in Big Hero 6, but he was impressed enough by my skills that he didn’t immediately assume they were off the table.)
The idea for this bot came from the book Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future. The specific project that motivated this activity was the Art-Making Vibrobot on pages 24 to 26, though I modified the supplies considerably and the technique slightly. Basically, this little “robot” is just a cup with marker legs that vibrates and spins due to the motor being off balance. As it jiggles around on a piece of paper it makes interesting designs. While I hope to make more exciting and complicated projects with my kids as they get older, this was a nice unthreatening activity to start with which showed my child how to hook up a simple DC motor to a battery. He’s already familiar with some of these electrical concepts through our Snap Circuits set (link to my review), but this was a fun, hands-on supplement to the more structured activities in that set.
Check out this video if you would like to see a demonstration of how one of our wigglebots moved, though they each have their own unique personality depending on the length and position of the legs.
Recommended Age Range: Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle School (younger kids will need adult supervision and assistance since this project uses hot glue)
Time Required: ~30 minutes
Cost: Less than $8 in used supplies (The motor was $3.50 and the battery holder was $1.50 at Radio Shack (our local electronics store). Everything else we already had on hand.)
- Disposable cup
- Electrical tape
- 3 Markers
- 2 “AAA” battery holder (affiliate link)
- 2 “AAA” batteries
- 1.5-3 V DC Motor (affiliate link)
- Popsicle stick
- Googly eyes (optional, you could always just draw them on)
Supplies & Tools:
- Permanent marker (to draw face, not shown)
- Glue (optional, for attaching googly eyes. Note that the picture shows Elmer’s Glue, but we ended up finding the hot glue gun worked better.)
1. First, tape the markers into the cup as legs.
2. Next, attach the battery pack to the DC motor by wrapping the wire around the leads on the motor. (When my kids are older, I’ll teach them how to solder, but for now, this is sufficient.)
3. Now that the battery pack is attached to the motor, tape the battery pack onto the top of the disposable cup slightly off-center. I cut the strips of electrical tape in half.
4. Next, tape the DC motor onto the cup.
5. At this point you could turn on the motor by placing the batteries into the holder, to see that with the motor not off balance, nothing exciting happens. Next, add on the clothespin to the motor and it should start to wiggle a little bit.
6. To make the wigglebot wiggle more, you need the motor to be more off-balance. I accomplished this by taping a popsicle stick to the clothespin. However, then my clothespin would frequently fall off of the motor due to the strong vibrations, so I folded the end of a long narrow piece of electrical tape over the motor and then wrapped the tape around the motor so that the sticky side was facing out.
7. Attach the clothespin and weight to the motor.
8. Make a face on your wigglebot, plug in the batteries, place it on a piece of paper and watch it wiggle and spin!
Note that unlike a prepackaged robotics kit which provides very specific instructions, this can be viewed as an open-ended activity. While the “tape fix” to get the clothespin to stick to the motor worked, one could definitely try to think of improvements to be able to cantilever more weight off the axle in order to make the wigglebot vibrate even more. The robotics book mentioned above recommends sticking a piece of cork into the shaft. There are also other adjustments that could be made and you should definitely encourage your child to ask questions and try to find solutions. What would happen if the legs were not all the same length? What if we attached the motor at an angle or sideways? What if we taped on more legs? I don’t know. What if?
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maryanne @ mama smiles
This is a great first robot engineering project!
Thanks! My kids had fun.
This is so awesome! I love how this project combines so many faculties, and is creative too. My son would be so impressed if I could make him one like this, but I’m not sure I fully understand the dynamics.
I KNOW you could do it! You don’t need to understand the dynamics before you build it. It will move and he’ll be impressed. Mine mainly just spun in circles, but I bet it depends a bit on how off balance you make the motor.
Wow, this is SO cute! My kids would love it!! I’m pinning this now!! :)
Thanks! If you decide to make it with them, I hope they enjoy it!
Such a clever idea! I’ll show it to my husband, I’m sure he’d love to make one for the boys… and himself :) Not sure how long the robot will live before my youngest tears it apart but it looks pretty easy to rebuilt it back.
Yeah, we’ve already had to repair ours a couple times, but since it’s all held together by tape, it’s easy to fix. :)
I want to do this with my class. Could I use a small motor? I found a 6v? Will this work? They are a very good price!
You could use a 6 volt motor, but that would require 4 AAA (1.5 V) batteries. It’s not hard to find holders for 4 batteries. It’s definitely doable, but it may or may not end up being cost effective. Good luck!
I’m using 4 AAA batteries and a 6 volt motor for this, but my cup may be a bit too small to fit the battery pack, batteries and the motor, and I’m not sure how to fit it on. Any ideas?
P.S I’m using this project for my electricity project and my teacher is impressed about how it works when we drew our plan. I just wanted to say, thanks, because we are being graded on these projects! :)\
You’re welcome. I hope you get a good grade! Is getting a smaller motor out of the question? If not, it’s hard for me to say without seeing your setup. Are you able to use just a single 6V battery? If not, maybe a bigger cup? Extra hot glue? I’m not sure. Good luck!
I just used this for a birthday party. We made about 8 and had the robots running around on a paper tablecloth. It was so much fun, thanks!
That makes me so happy, Angela! Thanks for letting me know. :)
Cannot tell you how much I LOVE this! So awesome, we’re going to make one this week. Thanks!
I’m so glad! I hope you all have fun!
Looks really cool! I am going to try making with my second grader. Thanks.
Great! Let me know if you have any questions. If it goes well, you might want to try this one next: https://researchparent.com/homemade-wobblebot/ I’m also planning on making a solar panel powered car soon using a propeller. Hopefully I’ll have the post up within the next month.
Wow, thank you for this. I have being playing with some similar ideas and I produced a post pointing to your work http://junkbots.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/two-related-videos.html I hope you don’t mind.
I don’t mind at all. Thank you so much for sharing my projects! :)
My son loves to do this… This is fun as well as learning. Thanks for sharing such an awesome article.
You’re welcome and thank you so much! I’m glad your son has fun.
Brenda Goodwin Dixon
Can you tell me where I can buy the motor? Thank you!
We got ours at our local electronics store, Radio Shack. We paid $3.50 for our motor, but on Amazon, you can get 5 of the same motor for about $7. If you wanted to do this with more than one kid or think you might want to use another motor for different projects, like my homemade wobblebot :), then that might be a more cost effective option. Let me know if you have any more questions!
Thanks for sharing. I’ll probably try this one out with my littles in the next few weeks, but on a smaller scale perhaps. I have several vibration motors lying around from when we made brush bots. Do you think scaling this down to a smaller size and using one of these https://www.amazon.com/2-5mm-Shape-Vibrating-Vibration-Motor/dp/B00GN7LU08/ref=pd_sim_60_3?ie=UTF8&dpID=41Wvcz8BKbL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=4MM6WCH6C1QRRTC6GWB9 motors would still work fairly well?
I’m not really sure! I’ve never worked with those vibrating motors. I imagine it should still more or less work. Maybe you could use a Dixie cup and those tiny little pencils or something? I’m also not sure how big of a battery you need to power them, but worst case, you could just hold the battery pack or lay it on the surface next to the cup. It’ll definitely do something interesting!
This is amazing! I am going to try this with a group of kids at a camp next week. Do you think two AA batteries would work instead? Thanks so much!
Yes, two AA batteries would also work. Let me know if you have any more questions. Good luck!
Loved the wigglebot idea. I will try it with my kids. They will be so excited. Thank you for sharing.
I hope they have fun! :)
Michelle, I’am undergraduate student from Indonesia and I willi make a project for teachers to make a robbot for their children in elementary school. I need your help to understand how science, math, tecnology, and engineering combined in the robbot. Would you like to sent me an email about my project ?
You’re welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Off the top of my head I would say there is science in electricity, technology in the components like the motor and the batteries, and engineering in figuring out how to assemble it all into a device that wobbles by making the motor unbalanced. Math is a little harder, but you could maybe use the triangular placement of the markers and the circular patterns it draws. Good luck!
How do you stop the Wigglebot without removing a battery? Using a switch?
We just pulled out the battery when we made our wigglebots, but a switch would definitely work. I used a switch in my wobblebot activity in case that helps. It just needs to be connected in series with the motor and battery pack. (https://researchparent.com/homemade-wobblebot/)
Thank you. We made it first with a switch inside the cup, but it was destabilizing the Wigglebot, so we redid it without the switch. Pulling the battery out is best for this project.
Would it be possible to hook up a solar cell to this??
You should be able to use a solar cell. However, I’ve tried powering the same motor with a cheap solar panel off a solar garden light from the 99 cent store before and one panel didn’t produce enough voltage. I had to connect a couple of them in series to get it to turn on. It’s definitely worth a shot though! Yours might be more powerful than mine.
Trying to make this & I’ve got everything down except for the keeping the clothes pin from flying off part! I’m winding the electrical tape around the top of the motor w/the sticky side facing out, but the pin is still flyin off. Help! :o)
Maybe try a little bit of hot glue? Just make sure not to get it inside the motor. It’s been awhile since we did this project, but I think we had to try a couple times before I got the tape to work. I feel like on another project we did, we wrapped one of my daughters tiny rubberbands around the motor shaft to make it a little more “grippy,” but I can’t remember how well that worked. (I still have baby brain with my 8 month old, lol.) A lot of engineering is just McGyvering with what you have. Good luck!
These little motors can also be pulled out of electric toothbrushes you get at the Dollar Stores. Just be careful as you pull it out. I used needle nose pliers to grab the battery housing and pulled. The motor came with it. You just don’t want to damage the prongs that the wires attach. (Buy extra toothbrush as a backup).
Also, the motor is a 1.5 v, so I wouldn’t use two AA batteries or you’ll have 3.0 V of power and burn out the motor faster. a single AA battery works just as well. Yes- 2 batteries make it go faster, but when I did a similar project, we could smell the motor after a short few minutes.
That’s a great idea about using Dollar store toothbrushes. We’ll have to stock up! The motor we use is rated at 1.5 to 3 V and I’ve never noticed a problem, but then again, I don’t think we’ve ever run anything longer than about a minute at a time. I’ll have to keep an eye on that. Thanks!
I can’t wait to do this with my grandsons! Thank you so much for the idea, instructions and links to supplies! :)
You are very welcome! Let me know if you have any questions. I hope you guys have fun! :)
I loved this so much that I told it to my teacher and she was so proud that she shared this idea to my principal and now each and every class is making it and there will be a very big science exhibition in which this will be presentated by every class.
That is so exciting, Amna! I am so glad you enjoyed it and shared it with your school. Thank you so much! :)
Can you email me the exact “how to” directions for this using the red solo plastic cups. I’m thinking of doing it for a large group of kids (about 500) at a local community event and it has to be quick (maybe 10-15 minutes) to do and not that expensive. My security controls at work won’t allow me to click into the link, so I thought if you email it directly to me, it might work, thank you,
Hi Carol! I’m sorry, I’m confused. I’m not sure which link you are not able to click. All the directions (with lots of pictures) are on this page that you commented on. If you want, I can try to copy and past the whole webpage into a document and email it to you, but the formatting might get a little messed up. However, I’m not sure this is the best activity for your group anyway. I’ve done it with a group of 4 kids before and I would say it took at least 30 minutes, since I was the only one using the hot glue gun. Even if you have a lot of adult helpers, I think this activity might not fit into the allotted time with THAT many kids. Good luck!
I bought the items through your links and nothing is working. Hooking up the battery housings to the motor and nothing is turning on. ANY ideas?
Hi Sarah! I’m sorry you’re having problems! I just double checked my links, because sometimes Amazon changes where they point to, but they still seem right. The first step in troubleshooting would be to just touch the leads to make sure everything works. Put the batteries into your battery pack. Make sure there is exposed metal on the ends of both wires coming out of the battery pack, then use those metal leads to touch the two metal tabs on the motor. It should turn on as soon as you make contact to both sides. Which wire you touch to which tab shouldn’t matter. If nothing happens, then either your battery pack is messed up or your motor is broken. If you bought the multi-packs, try switching them out. If it keeps failing, my only thought is maybe the springs are too compressed in the battery packs such that the batteries are not touching metal on both ends. If that’s the problem, you should be able to fix it by just stretching out the springs a little bit before you put in the batteries. I hope some of that helps! Good luck!
Thanks for the response. I think all my housings werebad. They each had an on/off switch and if we if we by passwd he switch I could get it to work. I have returned them to amazon. Thank you!
Hello! I made these with 5 students yesterday and the motor/battery works fine but the clothespin will not stay on with the tape or if it does stay on nothing happens. Almost like maybe the motor isn’t strong enough? I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Any thoughts?
Oh no! I’m sorry you were having trouble. Maybe make sure you are using fresh batteries. It should definitely still spin even when the clothespin is attached, though I admit it is a little tricky to get the clothespin to stay on the motor. I used electrical tape, but if that’s not working for you, maybe try some hot glue. Just make sure you don’t get it inside the motor!
I’m using fresh batteries. The motor works but the bot doesn’t wiggle. Any suggestions?
My best guess is that it is not unbalanced enough. Did you attach the popsicle stick to the clothespin? Another possibility is that maybe your motor was attached too close to the center of the cup. I would try moving the motor closer to the edge of the cup and if needed, add another popsicle stick.
What is the Connection to Math in this model? We have this model as a STEAM Project.
There aren’t really any calculations required for this project. Depending on the age range of the students doing the activity, you could probably have a discussion about the shapes that the wigglebot makes. You could figure out the rate of rotation using a stopwatch.
what is the STEAM in this wigglebot ???
This project uses simple circuits, which can be both technology and science depending on how you present them. The motor and battery packs are technological elements, while the electricity that flows through the wires could be used for a simple physics lesson. Getting the cup to wiggle using the clothespin to throw the motor off balance is engineering. I don’t think every STEAM project needs to have every element of the acronym, but this project in particular produces art with the markers and you could measure things like the length of the wires or how far the wigglebot travels in a minute for math practice.
Hi Michelle, nice work! Looks fun =)
How can I guide a child to explain the wigglebot dynamics for a presentation at the School Science Fairy?
Hmmm, I suppose it would depend on the age of the child, but there could be a discussion of the simple circuit used to run the motor and the need for the bot to be off balance in order to wobble. If a child was old enough, they could probably delve into angular momentum to explain why it moves. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a dynamics class!
How cool!! We want to come play!! My son is really excited to try this one. He does basic programming with my mom, who does that type of work. He is also in robotics class, he is in kindergarten… I am trying my utmost to understand enough to help him get to his goal of becoming an engineer. These are great, I am going to start following you!! Thank you!!
I hope your son enjoys the wigglebot! Let me know if you have any questions!
Looks really cool! . KIds are really going to enjoy
Thank you! I hope your kids have fun!
Did this with my 4 year old and she LOVED it. And also within a day took it apart to try to make something new so I see one of those inventor toolboxes in her future. :)
Awesome! This makes me so happy, Jennifer! I love that you are inspiring the next generation of future female engineers! :)
Do you know anything I can use to replace the motor stuff? I’m a fourth grader who wants to know how to make this for my invention convention.
Hi Ejaya! I’m really not sure! The motor is a key component of this little gizmo. Maybe you could come up with some sort of mechanism using a wound rubberband to get it to move for a short period of time, but finding a hobby motor and battery pack is definitely the easiest and most straightforward. If you have an old electric toothbrush around, you could try taking the motor out of that. It might not be powerful enough to move the bot much, but it could be worth a shot. Good luck!
Gift Idea Geek
This is a great idea and an amazing way to get kids into robotics. I love these and would be great to build with the kids. Thanks for sharing!
You’re very welcome! I hope your kids have fun! :)