Build Your Own Robot Arm

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.

  • Learn design concepts.
  • Learn teamwork.
  • Learn problem solving techniques.
  • Learn about simple machines.

Age Levels: 8 – 18

Lesson Plan Overview

Build Materials (For each team)

Required Materials

  • Cardboard strips
  • Cup (for testing) – may want to test multiple types of cups – plastic, styrofoam or paper or just test one.

Alternative Materials

  • Binder clips
  • Paper clips
  • Brass fasteners
  • Rubber bands
  • Clothespins
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Wire
  • Fishing Line
  • String
  • Tape
  • Paper
  • Short/Golf pencils

Materials

  • Cup (included in team materials) 

Alternative Testing Materials

  • Try some Items with more weight (i.e., water bottle or add items to the empty cup) to have the teams test lifting an item heavier than the cup.

Process

Teams test their designs by lifting the cup to a height of at least 6” from a surface (table, floor, etc.)

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.

Titan: Strongest Robot Arm in the World

https://robots.ieee.org/robots/titan/

Design Challenge

You are a team of engineers all working together, using the engineering design process, to design a robot arm that meets the challenge’s criteria and constraints.

Criteria

  • Arm length: minimum of 18”
  • Lift the cup to a height of at least 6” from a surface (table, floor)

Constraints

  • Use only the materials provided
  • Design a solution in the time provided
  1. Break class into teams of 2-4.
  2. Hand out the Robot Arm Exercise Questions worksheet, as well as some sheets of paper for sketching designs.
  3. Review the Engineering Design Process, Design Challenge, Criteria, Constraints and Materials. If time allows, review “Real World Applications” prior to conducting the design challenge.
  4. 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.
  5. Provide each team with their materials.
  6. 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).
  7. Announce the amount of time they have to design and build (1 hour recommended).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Teams build their designs.
  11. Test the robot arm designs and record the height each design was able to successfully lift the cup.
  12. As a class, discuss the student reflection questions.
  13. For more content on the topic, see the “Real World Applications” and “Digging Deeper” sections.

Student Reflection (engineering notebook)

  1. Did you use all the materials provided to you? Why, or why not?
  2. Which item was most critical to your robot arm design?
  3. How did working as a team help in the design process?
  4. Were there any drawbacks to designing as a team?
  5. What did you learn from the designs developed by other teams?
  6. Name three industries that make use of robots in manufacturing:

Time Modification

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

  • Engineers: Inventors and problem-solvers of the world. Twenty-five major specialties are recognized in engineering (see infographic).
  • Engineering Habits of Mind (EHM): Six unique ways that engineers think.
  • Engineering Design Process: Process engineers use to solve problems.
  • Criteria: Conditions that the design must satisfy like its overall size, etc.
  • Constraints: Limitations with material, time, size of team, etc.
  • Prototype: A working model of the solution to be tested.
  • Iteration: Test & redesign is one iteration. Repeat (multiple iterations).
  • Industrial Robot: Performs tasks such as sorting, welding, painting, product assembly, packaging, labeling, and quality inspection.
  • Unimate: First industrial robot ever built.

Internet Connections

Recommended Reading

  • Artificial Intelligence For Dummies (ISBN: 978-1119467656)
  • Modern Robotics: Mechanics, Planning, and Control (ISBN: 978-1107156302)
  • Robotics: Everything You Need to Know (ISBN: 978-1523731510)

Writing Activity

Write an essay (or paragraph depending on age) about how the invention of robots and robotics has impacted manufacturing.

Global Math Standard Aligned Lesson Concepts
Number and Operations Basic Calculations, Formulas
Algebra
Geometry (Shape and Space)
Measurement Charting and presentation
Data Handling and Analysis Evaluation of Data Results, comparison with other student results
Statistical Investigation
Probability and Estimation Predicting outcomes
Global Science Standard Aligned Lesson Concepts
 Materials and Properties Conductors and Insulators, Testing
Environment/Ecology
Forces and Motion
Energy
 Electricity/Magnetism Electric Circuitry
Community and Health
Natural Resources
Earth Systems
 Biology/Bioengineering Wearables and Sensors
Chemistry
Physics (light, sound, heat)
Global Technology Standard Aligned Lesson Concepts
Information Technology Coding
Systems Integration of parts to a whole
Innovation Wearables and Sensors
Data Organization
Data Representation Chart Development and Presentation
Overarching Skills Aligned Lesson Concepts
Communication Presentation and Audience Feedback
Critical Thinking
Creativity Design and Implementation of Design
Collaboration Teamwork
Problem Solving Project Planning
Organization Parts Management
Scientific Thinking/Research
Careers and Degrees

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 of four 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: