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May Engineering Activity: Bristlebots

A robotics engineer is a behind-the-scenes designer, who is responsible for creating robots and robotic systems that perform duties that humans are either unable or prefer not to complete. Through their creations, a robotics engineer helps to make jobs safer, easier, and more efficient. Check out the activity below to build your very own Bristlebot robot!
May Engineering Activity: Bristlebots -

Bristlebots are an easy, and fun project to do using the head of a toothbrush, a battery, and a small motor. Once completed, they buzz along the top of a table! In this activity, we’re going to build one Bristlebot with straight bristles and one with slanted bristles and race them to see which is faster!  

What You Will Need 

  • 2 Coin cell batteries (1.5 V or 3 V) 
  • 2 Vibration motors (a good source can be found here) 
  • 2 Toothbrush heads, one with slanted bristles and one with straight bristles, with the handles cut off 
  • Double-sided foam tape 
  • Scissors 
  • Googly eyes, pipe cleaners or felt for decoration 
  • Flat, smooth surface like a table or countertop. The robots will not work on rough surfaces or carpet. 


  1. Prep all your materials, get an adult to help you cut the head off each toothbrush, and cut a piece of foam tape the size of the top of each one.  
  2. Apply a small piece of foam tape to the top of the toothbrush robotic platform, which will be used to hold the motor in place. 
  3. Attach the motor to the foam tape. The tape provides a spacer so that the rotating weight does not hit the toothbrush head. It also provides a strong, flexible connection to the base to handle the severe vibration that this robot experiences. 
    May Engineering Activity: Bristlebots -
  4. Bend one of the leads down flush with the foam tape, so that you can *stick* the battery to the foam tape as well and still make an electrical connection. The other lead contacts the other side of the battery, and the motor can run. 
    May Engineering Activity: Bristlebots -
  5. Does your Bristlebot run straight? Does it fall over? Battery and motor placement, bristle shape and how the whole thing is balanced can influence movement.  Try flipping the battery upside down or reversing the orientation of the motor if you have trouble getting yours to go straight. 
  6. Decorate with googly eyes, pipe cleaner antennae or felt wings, make it your own!May Engineering Activity: Bristlebots -
  7. Now make your second Bristlebot and race them! Or, try building a maze and see if your Bristlebot can escape.

What other type of robots do you think you can make with a small vibrating motor and a battery? Experiment with shapes and materials and see what you can come up with! 



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  • Heather Sheridan

    Heather Sheridan P.E., PMP is a Civil Engineer and Project Manager at Black & Veatch in the Hydropower Department. Heather has a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Davis with a focus on hydraulic structures and environmental design.