This lesson explores the design of a robot arm. Students design and build a working robotic arm from a set of everyday items with a goal of having the arm be able to pick up a cup. Students work in teams of “engineers” to design and build their own robot arm out of everyday items.
Robots that work in a manufacturing setting are known as “industrial robots.” Industrial robots perform tasks such as sorting, welding, painting, product assembly, packaging, labeling, and quality inspection. Visit IEEE’s Robots website and check out some videos of Unimate the first industrial robot ever built.
Hand out the Robot Arm Exercise Questions worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials. If time allows, review “Real World Applications” prior to conducting the design challenge.
Before instructing students to start brainstorming and sketching their designs, ask them to consider the following:
● How can you control the movement of the arm from a distance?
● How might you use the fishing line?
● Consider the strength of the grip on the different types of cups.
● Look at a trash grabber as one possible example.
Provide each team with their materials.
Explain that students must design a robot arm from everyday items. The robot arm must be a minimum of 18” and lift a cup to a height of at least 6” from a surface (table, floor).
Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
Use a timer or an on-line stopwatch (count down feature) to ensure you keep on time. (www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch). Give students regular “time checks” so they stay on task. If they are struggling, ask questions that will lead them to a solution quicker.
Students meet and develop a plan for their robot arm. They agree on materials they will need, write/draw their plan, and present their plan to the class. Teams may trade unlimited materials with other teams to develop their ideal parts list.
Teams build their designs.
Test the robot arm designs and record the height each design was able to successfully lift the cup.
As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
For more content on the topic, see the “Real World Applications” and “Digging Deeper” sections.
Student Reflection (engineering notebook)
Did you use all the materials provided to you? Why, or why not?
Which item was most critical to your robot arm design?
How did working as a team help in the design process?
Were there any drawbacks to designing as a team?
What did you learn from the designs developed by other teams?
Name three industries that make use of robots in manufacturing:
The lesson can be done in as little as 1 class period for older students. However, to help students from feeling rushed and to ensure student success (especially for younger students), split the lesson into two periods giving students more time to brainstorm, test ideas and finalize their design. Conduct the testing and debrief in the next class period.
Divide into teams
Review the challenge and criteria constraints
Brainstorm possible solutions (sketch while you brainstorm!)
Choose best solution and build a prototype
Test then redesign until solution is optimized
Reflect as a team and debrief as a class
Note: All Lesson Plans in this series are aligned to the National Science Education Standards which were produced by the National Research Council and endorsed by the National Science Teachers Association, and if applicable, also to the International Technology Education Association’s Standards for Technological Literacy or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Principles and Standards for School Mathematics.