Program 45: Artbots 2.0

Artbots is really more of a gizmo/gadget project with some scientific reasoning and problem-solving thrown in the mix.  With a few simple items from the dollar store plus a little tenacity (not everything goes as planned in a project like this!), we designed with our own hands some nifty “robots” that created art (and even some “music” thanks to the creativity of some of my scientists)!   There are many sites that actually provide instructions for how to create versions of artbots, so feel free to test a few models to see what works best for you (and your budget). My Artbots 2.0 are even easier to complete than the original version we did over a year ago thanks to an unexpected change in available supplies. I love when changes actually make things easier for us 🙂


  • Electric toothbrushes + some spares (I purchased the GB brand battery-operated brushes sold at Dollar Tree; I found it VERY handy to have a few spares on hand). NOTE: Our previous Artbots were made with the Luminant brand of electric toothbrush. While you can still find Luminants in Dollar Tree stores, the GB brushes are much more common at this time (and actually make for much easier Artbot adaptations)!
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Box cutter (to cut the pool noodles down to size before the program, though scissors work great as well)
  • Electrical tape + scissors (though masking tape or duct tape work just as well)
  • Styrofoam pool noodles (I found these at Dollar Tree as well)
  • Rubber bands of various sizes
  • Markers or pens (thin or thick – makes no difference!)
  • AA Batteries (which I also purchased at Dollar Tree on the cheap). NOTE: The Luminant brand brushes actually came with a battery (which sometimes didn’t work, so I had spare batteries for emergencies). The GB brand does NOT come with the necessary AA battery, so you will need to supply them (and it’s still a good idea to have spares on hand for the occasional dud).
  • Paper to test the Artbots on – I actually had a giant roll of white paper that I used to fully cover the surfaces of our work tables, so my scientists could just test their bots whenever they felt like it without having to worry about finding scrap paper, or keeping their bot confined to a small piece of paper.
  • Any other supplies you want to use for decorating. I pulled out everything of interest I could find in our craft supply closet: beads, pipe cleaners, pompoms, buttons, google eyes, jingle bells, colored craft sticks, etc.

STEP ONE:  Take apart the GB Toothbrush

Here is where the GB brand completely trumps the Luminant brand for ease of modification. The GB brush very simply pulls apart into 4 pieces, as seen in the images below. The motor is already a part of the battery casement with the on/off button, so once you have pulled apart the toothbrush, you simply need to put a single AA battery into the battery casement and test it by pressing the on/off button! My motto is “always be prepared for anything,” and sure enough, about 1/3 of my scientists had toothbrushes that were a little finicky about fully separating. I bopped around the room with my needle nose pliers and helped yank out the battery casement for the scientists experiencing some trouble. And there were a few cases of over-exuberant separating where the scientists actually pulled the motor and a bent metal base out of the battery casement (in most cases we were able to reassemble on the fly) – and a few cases where the motor just didn’t turn on despite testing multiple batteries. And THAT is why I always have extra brushes on hand. When you’re buying electric toothbrushes from a dollar store, you really do have to be prepared for a few duds in the mix.



Possible additional pieces from Step 1

Possible additional pieces from Step 1

When things go slightly wrong...

When things go slightly wrong…

Once all of my scientists had separate battery casements with motors attached, and all motors had been tested, it was time for our next big challenge…

STEP TWO:  Houston, we have a problem! Fitting the motor and battery casement into the pool noodle pieces…

With the Luminant brand brushes, the cobbled together battery casement and motor fit nice and snuggly inside the hollow center of our pool noodle pieces. I discovered during my own personal testing prior to the program that the battery casement from the GB brushes was a bit thinner and actually slips straight through the hollow center of the pool noodle. I suspected that fixing that would probably be as simple as using some rubber bands or duct tape to fill out the space, but I wanted to involve my scientists in the problem-solving. So I demonstrated our problem to the group and asked them to help me find a solution. Most of the scientists quickly figured out that you could use duct tape or masking tape to prevent the motor from falling out of the bottom of the pool noodle piece. HOWEVER, as many discovered, you also had to make the battery casement/motor SNUG inside the pool noodle. If the battery casement was still loose inside the pool noodle, the motor was unable to properly vibrate the noodle and move it around the table. Some scientists filled the gaps with pipe cleaners; others used rubber bands. Both solutions worked well.

With that problem solved, all that remained was the fun and freedom to design the individual bots!…

FINAL STEP:  Decorate!

Photo Oct 14, 4 55 01 PMI provided our scientists with pipe cleaners, google eyes, feathers, fun buttons, etc. (pretty much any fun supplies I could find in our crafting storage).  Some artbots can be made using plastic cups and the like, but the beauty of the styrofoam pool noodle pieces is that decorating is a snap! For most supplies, all you need to do is push materials directly into the styrofoam – no glue or tape required. I did provide wet glue for items like pompoms, but most scientists quickly realized that waiting for glue to dry was no fun – it was so much easier to poke materials into the pool noodle. I personally find that pipe cleaners are invaluable – you can weave them through button holes, wrap them around pompoms – and as my super creative scientists discovered, you can even string tiny bells onto them! And the ends of pipe cleaners very easily poke straight into the pool noodles.

In an interesting and unexpected turn of events, my scientists got so inspired by the act of creating their bots that they even took apart about a dozen of my pens on the supply table so they could make use of the springs and plastic pen shells! [I totally didn’t see that one coming 🙂 ]

I actually covered our usual program tables with paper so my scientists didn’t even have to worry about scrap paper (as you can see in the video above). Once the artbots were assembled and decorated, my scientists had free reign of table surfaces to create their art. At some point, of course, the battery will likely wear out and you will need to pull the motor assembly out of the pool noodle to replace the battery. But that’s a simple price to pay for such a fun gadget!


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