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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Design a Smart Room-Cleaning Robot

May 10 is National Clean Up Your Room Day! What if you could clean your entire room without moving from one spot? Let nature be an inspiration as you dream up, sketch and prototype the ultimate room-cleaning robot.


Materials Needed

  • Aluminum foil
  • Craft materials (e.g., clay, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, string)
  • Disposable materials (e.g., paper cups, plates, toothpicks, utensils)
  • Drawing materials (e.g., pencils, markers)
  • Masking tape
  • Office supplies (e.g., paper clips, rubber bands)
  • Recyclables


At-Home or In-Classroom Instructions

  1. Research ways in which plants and animals have inspired inventions. This is referred to as biomimicry.
  2. Make a list of the actions you want your robot to accomplish, such as: pick up, grab, sort and move objects.
  3. Now research plants and animals that use the same actions you want your robot to perform. You can start by reviewing the following facts:

    a. A platypus can use its bill to sort food.
    b. Octopus tentacles can reach and grab.
    c. Bacteria colonies build themselves into patterns.
    d. A Venus flytrap’s leaves close to capture prey.
    e. Spiders use sticky webs to catch and hold prey. They also make a spiral of non-sticky threads in the center of their webs, which allows them to easily move around during web construction.
  4. Brainstorm ways to build a robot with features that mimic plants and animals.

    a. How will your robot recognize what needs cleaning?
    b. How will it reach the items?
    c. How will it organize objects? By size? Type? Shape?
  5. Gather drawing materials and sketch designs for your robot. Think about how different toys and gadgets around the house function. How can you incorporate these functions and designs into your robot?
  6. Build a prototype of the robot you designed. Use recyclables and other available craft supplies.
  7. Test your design! If it does not work as you intended, can you identify what it is that needs to be changed? How will you adjust? What is working in your design? How can you use that information to continue developing your prototype?
  8. Take your room-cleaning robot to a smarter level! How might you incorporate smart features, such as voice activation or the ability to control it from a smartphone? Could it have sensors that alert you when a task needs to be accomplished? Maybe it could sense the height of a pile of clothes on a chair? Be sure to record your ideas. Think big and have fun!


What are we learning?

Inspiration is everywhere, and we can use everyday objects in new ways to solve problems. In this activity, children define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success. They are also exploring design thinking and observing people, plants and animals and how they use objects, products and processes. Many businesses are looking to nature and the features and abilities of animals and plants to innovate, which is called biomimetics.

A classic example of biomimetics can be found in the invention of VELCRO® fasteners. In 1948, National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee George de Mestral, who was an amateur mountaineer, made a discovery that changed the way he looked at the burrs of the burdock plant. While pulling burrs from his jacket, he began to think about how they could stick to everything from his socks and jacket to his dog's ears and tail. Upon further investigation with the help of his microscope, de Mestral discovered that there were tiny hooks that entangled themselves in the loops of fabric and fur. This allowed the seedpod to catch a free ride on the fur of passing animals. This discovery inspired de Mestral to design a unique, two-sided fastener that launched a multimillion-dollar business.


Looking for more STEM activities?

Developed by our team of education experts, NIHF regularly publishes hands-on STEM activities for families to try out at home. For a full list of these, we encourage you to visit our blog.

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