DIY Recycled Robot for kids

Use circuit basics to make a simple moving robot from your recycling bin.

What you'll learn:

How to wire a simple circuit that includes a DC motor.

Key takeaways:


Kids LOVE robots.

In this project, we want to harness their love and excitement of robots to begin to think about the engineering process, design limitations, and circuit building. 

The engineering process is a series of steps that engineers follow to make new products. This process starts with defining the problem - in this case defining the problem is determining what your robot will do within the design limitations. Here the limitations are that you have a DC motor and recycled materials. 

That means you can make your robot move, but are limited in that it won't have programming. Because of the lack of programming, the circuit building is very straightforward allowing you to enjoy making the project and not get bogged down in details.

The DC motor could drive a wheel, fan, gear system, arm...you get the idea. 

Project Ingredients:
DC motor 
9V battery
9v battery holder
Recycled materials

How to make a simple recycled robot that moves

When kids think about building a robot they immediately go to insanely cool gadgets. Their robot will fly, take photos, lift cars, talk, grip items with a hand, cook, clean, transport them, do homework, complete chores…the list goes on and on.

While these types of robots can certainly be built, and are being built, it is hard to find an entry-level robotics project that keeps them excited while also playing to their strengths, mainly, entry-level circuitry. 

This simple recycled robot won’t be able to do the dishes, but it will be able to move around and make kids laugh. It will also teach them very basic circuit principles, troubleshooting, engineering, and building techniques as they use their imaginations to create.

These simple motorized recycled robots can be built by kids, with very little parental help (although having Mom and Dad engaged in the project makes it one of those great childhood memories. To build these robots we need a recycling bin, a 9V battery, a 9V battery connector, and a motor.

The 9V battery provides the power to the circuit, that is, the chemical reaction inside the battery pushes electrons through the wires of the battery connector and into the motor. Learn how a simple DC motor works as you create one!

how to build a simple roboto with kids using a dc motor

1. Prepared your battery connector.

Your battery connector has two wires, one red (or high) and one black (or low). Electrons flow from high (red) to low (black) in the circuit. The wires are bare at the very end, usually, the amount of bare wire is very short. You will want to strip about a half inch of bare wire for each. This will allow you to make a good connection to your DC motor.

securing wires to a dc motor to make a moving robot with kids

2. Secure the wires to your motor

The motors through our links will work with voltages between 3V and 12V. That means you can directly hook up the motor to a 9V battery if you want. If the motor spins too fast with a direct 9V connection you can attach a resistor between the red lead of the battery connector and the motor.

Crimp and twist will work if you prefer not to solder. Want to slow down your robot? These robots hooked directly into the 9V battery will move fast. If you want to slow it down you can solder a resistor between the battery connector and the DC motor.

testing the dc motor and battery in a simple recycled robot craft

3. Test your DC motor

It is never any fun to get too far into a project only to find out the motor, the wiring, or the battery doesn’t work. Connect a 9V battery and make sure the motor is spinning. This would be a good time to check the directions of spin as well so you know the motion that will occur in the robot.

4. Secure the wiring

Once you have everything working disconnect the 9V battery and tape around the connections between the battery connector and the DC motor. Electrical tape is best, but masking tape will do in a pinch. This will help keep any bumps and tugs on the wires from pulling away from the motor.

5. Build a robot base

This can be anything you want. TP tubes, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes etc. Find a place for your DC motor to live on your robot.

6. Determine how your robot will move

You can use wheels, fans, arms etc as your moving part to the robot. There are also gears you can buy online if you want to move more then one part at a time. Attach the motion portion to your robot.

7. Tape on the battery

Find a location to tape on the battery. Make sure the connector can reach the battery’s location and consider how the weight of the battery will affect the balance. Then, decorate to your heart’s content!

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