Take your first step in the world of robotics with a brush bot — or bristle bot–made from a toothbrush and tiny motor.
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What is a Brush Bot?
Brush bots are extremely simple robots made from a vibrating motor and a small brush that acts as legs. They are similar to Hexbugs, a commercially made variant of brush bots. You can not program or steer these bots, but they will change direction as they bump into things.
You can make a brush bot out of nearly any brush–if your motor is large enough!
The bots we’ll make today use a toothbrush and a tiny motor used in pagers. (Do they still make pagers?)
Brush Bot Tips
Any kind of tooth brush works, but for goodness sake use a clean one. We’ve tried both flat bristle brushes and angled ones and they both work great!
You can find tiny vibrating motors at MicroCenter (a computer super store) and online at Amazon. Amazon can get you a dozen motors for cheap, as long as you don’t mind planning ahead.
If you’re one of my local readers, our St. Louis MicroCenter is in the Brentwood Promenade, near Target & Trader Joe’s.
This bot is powered with a light weight “coin” battery. You’ll want one that is 1-3 volts, which is pretty average. They can get pricey, so I recommend grabbing some at the Dollar Store or from Amazon which has decent prices.
Assemble your Brush Bot with double stick foam tape or poster sticky tack. You don’t want anything TOO sticky, like glue, because you’ll be taking the bot apart…a lot. Glue dots are ok!
Experiment with Your Bots
Half the fun of building a Brush Bot is playing around with the design. You’ll find the bot behaves differently depending on WHERE you place the motor and if you let the motor hang free or tie it to the brush.
Decorate your Bot
A basic brush bot can be made in minutes — but you’ll have way more fun with them if you add decorations or small toys to act as drivers.
Balance is key! You’ll need to play around with HOW you decorate your bot so you don’t tip it over.
Make a Track for your Bot
Like a Hexbug, these bots will move around in random directions…right off the table or under the couch depending on where you’re playing. Put them in a box or create a track for them to give them direction. We’ve made simple tracks by lining up rulers or taping down straws.
- Small motor with two wires
- Button cell battery
- Double stick foam tape or Sticky Tack
- Pliers/wire cutter
- Wire cutter, wire stripper (if needed)
- Cut the handle off a new toothbrush, using the wire snips. Younger kids should let an adult to this.
- If the wires to your motor are covered, use wire strippers to expose them.
- Place a piece of double stick foam/sticky tack on the back of the brush.
- Place ONE wire from the motor on top of the sticky foam/sticky tack and place a coin battery on top of that.
- Use another piece of foam/tack to stick the OTHER wire to the top of the battery. This will also turn the motor on, so feel free to remove the wire after testing.
- Decorate your brush bot!
Unfortunately, there's no on/off switch with a home made brush bot. To turn it off, you'll have to pry the tape off too.
Sticky Tack is used to mount posters on the wall, you'll find it where tape is located.