Science Fair Projects for Kids: Design and 3D-Print Your Own Robot

How cool would it be if you could print your own robot?

You would be shocked to know that designing your own robot isn’t necessarily as hard as movies make them look. The concept of robots has played a huge part in many children’s childhoods. From classic shows like Voltes V and Astroboy to the timeless Transformers and the iconic Optimus Prime, children have been mesmerized by robots.

In fact, kids old enough to learn fundamental concepts in electronics and design software can create robots of their own! With some knowledge in designing software like Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and some robotics kits available online, you can have a robot up and running in no time.

The process certainly isn’t easy, but it certainly isn’t rocket science. There is some degree of difficulty in the process. To ease you into the nitty-gritty of this science adventure, this article will walk you through the concepts. The discussion will start with the fundamentals and work toward the more advanced information.

Project Details

Expect this project to take about two to five days or even a week. As a science fair project, this will likely fall under robotics and engineering. The project will require some funds as aside from the materials, you will have to use a 3D printer to make the robot’s body. Prepare a considerable amount of finances for the materials and production.

The robots you can create through this project can range from basic robots that can create art to more complex and intricately-designed models. The project will require a fundamental understanding of CAD, 3D printing, and basic electronics – all of which are simpler than it sounds.

Technical Requirements

Despite being simpler than what the shows on TV advertise, this project will still need some technical finesse. CAD, while intimidating, is more accessible and more conducive to learning than most people believe. Generally speaking, big and bulky 3D printers can be expensive. However, in recent years, these innovative printers have increasingly become consumer-friendly. Thanks to progress in modern technology, smaller and more affordable 3D printers have become more and more available to consumers. The electronic component you’ll need for the robots can be customized with the help of professionals or available kits online. There are robotic kits available in stores on the web that can give life to your creations.

These are the primary concept that will require your attention and expertise. As you learn how to navigate these elements, you’ll be well underway with the creation of your very own robot.

3D Printing

Basically, 3D printing is the rapid printing of three-dimensional objects designed through computer programs like CAD software. This process is done through large and expensive machines called 3D printers. Thankfully, these large machines have become more compact and affordable through the years and are now accessible to consumers.

There are several 3D printer varieties available in the market. Some 3D printers release melted plastic to form the shapes. Imagine an ice cream machine forming swirls on cones. As the heated plastic starts to cool down, the shape solidifies, gradually becoming a solid object. Other 3D printers utilize lasers to merge bits of plastic or metal powder. Some even use ultraviolet light to strengthen the solidification of a special liquid called photopolymer.

For this project, you have two viable options to choose from: either you buy an affordable 3D printer, or you find a service provider. The latter option, of course, is the more efficient choice. Unless you find a consistent use for a 3D printer, it would be more cost-efficient to opt for a service provider for your 3D printing needs.

3D Printing: History

When you hear about 3D Printing, you might think about overly futuristic and complex machines. The whole concept just feels like it’s straight out of a science fiction show, doesn’t it? But would you believe that 3D printing is actually 80s technology? It’s shocking but true.

The history of 3D printing starts with a man named Hideo Kodama. Kodama was a Japanese man in the 1980s who documented the first iterations of 3D printing. Kodama was trying to find a way to develop a rapid prototyping system. Through this endeavor, he was able to come up with a layer-by-layer approach for its manufacturing through a photosensitive resin that he blended together through UV light.

This is the concept from which the idea of 3D printing evolved. After various iterations by three French researchers, Charles Hull’s Stereolithography, Card Deckard’s Selective Laser Sintering technology, Scott Crump’s Fused Deposition Modeling, and more, 3D printing eventually became the fascinating innovation it is today. The iterations that followed Kodama’s prototype are all 3D printing methods that paved the way for the technology you see today.

3D Printing: Its Use and Importance

Historically speaking, 3D printing was first conceptualized as a quick way to create prototypes. This function evolved into creating small custom parts for furniture, appliances, and even toys. The functionality and use case further progressed into helping create 3D models for products and structures.

In the 90s, 3D printing helped the world by revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. This innovation changed the trade by manufacturing intricate industrial parts. It was also around this time when CAD tools became increasingly accessible. The development of CAD programs helped experts design and develop 3D models of components they needed through computers.

As 3D printers evolved from the complicated and bulky machines in the 1990s, their use case also grew wider. In 2008, 3D printing revolutionized healthcare as better and more accessible printers produced the first prosthetic leg. This leap propelled the success and fame of 3D printing.

The clamors that the innovation had produced in the healthcare industry propelled the invention into worldwide fame. The events allowed the product to introduce its ingenuity to millions across the globe.

Up to this day, 3D printers still help the world in many ways. Bigger and better machines now create 3D-printed buildings, hearing aids, and intricate custom parts in gadgets, toys, and other technology.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

Humanity benefits from Computer-Aided Design, or CAD, in many ways. Just about every piece of technology or man-made product around you may have been designed through CAD. To create the gadgets, cars, and accessories that you use every day, engineers and designers rely on CAD for prototypes.

CAD allows today’s visionaries to develop, modify, and optimize their designs and the processes that contribute to their production. Through this cutting-edge process, developers and engineers are able to create accurate representations of their products and improve their designs. Thanks to the progress of technology, programs, and software also show how every material interacts to perfect their creations.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD): History

Before CAD became the digital process it is today, the optimization and prototyping of products used to be a manual hand-performed process. However, it might shock you to know that the history of CAD can be traced back to the early 60s.

While working for the industry giants, General Electric, which was founded by history’s greatest business minds such as Thomas Edison, JP Morgan, Edwin Houston, and other icons, Patrick Hanratty and Ivan Sutherland developed the first-ever system that utilized interactive graphics and a numerical control programming system.

In 1963, Sutherland was able to develop a system that enabled designers to alter their designs through 3D computer modeling and visual simulation. In Sutherland’s words, this groundbreaking innovation “let designers use a light pen to create engineering drawings directly on a CRT.”

Taking the discovery a step further, Hanratty created the grandfather of about 90% of current CAD programs. The Automated Drafting and Machinery, or ADAM, allows creatives and engineers to optimize their products through an interactive graphics design, drafting, and manufacturing system. ADAM was the first of its kind as a commercially available system.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD): Its Use and Importance

Before CAD came to be, companies used to optimize their designs through manual and analog means. In modern times, designers, developers, engineers, architects, and construction managers frequently use this innovation for optimization and representation.

Through CAD’s ability to accurately create digital representations of products, buildings, and designs professionals are able to optimize their designs through interactive graphics interaction. Modern development has also allowed teams to work on CAD software simultaneously as the innovative cloud technology opened new possibilities for collaboration and cooperation.

Collaboration functionality that cloud innovations opened up allows experts to maximize efficiency and improve the pace at which companies operate. Now CAD not only optimizes design time and quality; it also allows companies and teams to operate more efficiently.

Robotics and Robots

The third main element of this project is robotics and electronics. This is the part of your project that will allow your creation to move and perform its functions. To gain a better understanding of what you’re trying to achieve through this project, it would be essential to understand what robotics is, what robots are, and how they work.

Robotics is a branch of engineering and science that deals with the design, construction, and use of mechanical robots. Throughout the past century, humans have been fascinated by robots and the products of robotics. From R2-D2 to Optimus Prime, pop culture has portrayed its fair share of the portrayal of robots in media, toys, and other fields. While these examples are exaggerations, robotics is truly a fascinating field.

Contrary to misconceptions, robots are far from the extremes of C3PO or Voltes V. At its very core, robots are programmable machines that are built to assist humans or carry out human actions.

So far from the humanoid wonders portrayed in pop culture mainstays like Transformers or Star Wars, robots can be simpler machines like a robot creating art or a mechanized arm that can close or open.

All this information known, it’s time to build your own robot.

Project Proper

Now that the concept of robotics and robots is clear to you and you now have a basic understanding of the technical tools you need for this project, it’s time to get to work.

Start with the robot you want to create. Depending on the level of knowledge that you have in basic engineering, you can program your robot to do whatever you want. However, if you feel like customizing functionality is a bit too advanced for you, there are electronic kits available online. Do note, though, that these robotics kits are likely limited to some functionality. In light of this, it’s time you get to work.

Preparation

Prepare the things you need. Research the best 3D printing service provider near you, think about which robotic kit to use, and conceptualize what design you want to render on CAD.

Robotics Kits

Before you think about the design, you may want to build around the functionality. For example, if you want to create a robot that crawls around, you may want to use CAD to design a spider exterior or something similar. To help you decide, below are some robotics kits you may want to consider.

Bristlebot Robotics Kit

The Bristlebot Robotics Kit, when equipped with your design, allows inanimate objects to wiggle and wobble. Young scientists use this robotics kit to bring famous projects like the art bot and the brush bots to life.

BlueBot 4-in-1 Robotics Kit

Create a robot that can follow a black line, react to motion, detect light, and sense touch with the Bluebot 4-in-1 Robotics Kit. It’s the perfect project for budding robotics enthusiasts and requires no prior experience in electronics to operate.

Designing Through CAD

Contrary to popular belief, CAD is more accessible than many people think. There are resources online that can guide you towards some free CAD software. Free CAD programs online range from downloadable software to browser-based resources. Below are some of the best free CAD software for kids.

3D Builder

You can use 3D builder through browser integration. It has a simple interface that is user-friendly and excellent for kids who want to learn about CAD. There is a readily available library where sample and ready-made projects are stored. Beginners and young learners can use these pre-made models for their projects or leisure.

Tinkercad

Developers specifically designed Tinkercad for curious learners who want to get started in 3D design, electronic designs, and more. The best part about Tinkercad is that there’s an available gallery of the designs other users are sharing and developing. It’s a powerful CAD program that, as long as you have a decent internet connection, you can use anytime, anywhere, and free of charge.

Print and Integrate

After completing your design through CAD, it’s time for you to print your model. You can either find a 3D printing service provider around your area or purchase a budget 3D printer. Either way, by the time you finish printing, you will have all the components you need for your robot.

After your 3D model solidifies, integrate the robotic kit with the printed product. Assemble, document, and enjoy the show. Time to take this project to the science fair.

Elena Jones

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