man building robot with kids

How to Make a Robot at Home: Easy Project for Kids

Rebecca Gray STEM Projects

What’s up with that headline?  You can imagine the frustration a parent feels when their child asks them how to build a robot.  I think it’s written in the imaginary Handbook for Parenting that every kid asks their parents this question at least one time.  (It’s right there in Chapter 6: Unanswerable Questions Every Kid Asks.  It’s right beside, “If a shark and a bear got in a fight, who would win?”)

If parents don’t know how to make robots at home, how can it be an easy project for kids?  You feel disappointed because you know this is a teachable moment.  You want to take advantage of it.  But you also couldn’t program the coffeepot last night to make your cup of joe this morning, so you know you’re out of your league with a real robot.

End result: your kid’s DIY project might end up being a lifeless abomination of last week’s amazon boxes, half a roll of duct tape, and all the tin foil you needed for dinner tonight.  Pizza it is!

Wait a minute!  It doesn’t have to be this way.  You can take advantage of this teachable moment without being tech-savvy.  There are STEM kits for kids that turn at-home robotics into a genuinely easy project for curious minds.

Can kids really make a robot on their own?

This is a small, unanimated robot lying on the ground. This is a DIY homemade robot created with cardboard Amazon boxes.
Photo by InstaWalli from Pexels

Silly parents!  Of course, they can make their own robot!  Would this blog post exist if they couldn’t?  Our experts in both tech and education have come up with an easy step-by-step guide to building an animated robot that can be done by kids who have that natural problem-solving curiosity.  It’s an activity that will allow them to play and learn while dabbling in robotics for kids.  They will be creating an electronic device that can interact with its environment and be controlled remotely with their bare hands.

You won’t need to brush up on your robotics or mechatronics knowledge at all, because this project is made super simple with robotics kits for kids.  Enjoy a cup of coffee from that pot with too many buttons, and watch your child transform into an engineer. Surprise!  They can build a robot from scratch.  (You’ll find this in the imaginary Parent Handbook in Chapter 10: Times our children made us proud doing things we thought they couldn’t.)

How To Make Your WiFi Robot

It’s time to let your child build their first robot (No soldering iron required!).  Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of just how to build a robot at home with a simple DIY STEM kit and Thimble’s expert guides. They’ll even be able to control this robot with a tablet or other device.  Before they get started, understand that robotics for kids is a learning process.  Failing at certain steps is par for the course in anything, and DIY science projects are no exception.  Your child is more resilient than you think, and they’ll dust themselves off and keep plugging away.  Questions they have can be addressed by our gurus during live classes that are free and offered twice weekly.  Let’s get started!

This is an image of a boy who is seated at a table using a tablet. This is what your child could look like after building a wifi robot at home with a robotics kit for kids.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema from StockSnap

Theme: Robotics & Mechatronics

Soldering required?  No

Project duration: 3+ hours

Skill level: Ages 10+

Step 1:  Unbox you’re DIY STEM Kit

The only thing better than learning how to build a robot is watching people unbox things on YouTube right?  Well lucky for your kid, step 1 of this guide to building robots involves unboxing a DIY STEM kit.  Check out all the little pieces (but don’t lose them).  Find the instruction postcard, and ready your child to feel like Tony Stark.

This is an image of the open Thimble wifi robot kit with the pieces and instruction card. This robotics kit for kids will teach you how to build a robot at home.

Step 2:  Ready. Set. Arduino.

Secondly, your child will download a software called Arduino IDE.  This software will be used to program a little red board in the kit called (surprise) an Arduino board.  The Arduino board is the piece that’s going to let this type of robot understand instructions.  This board connects right to your computer with a mini USB cable in the kit.  Thimble’s online learning module will make all the intimidating “coding” parts of robotics for kids a piece of cake.

This is a blue Arduino Uno connected to a gray USB cable.

This comprehensive module takes your little engineer through some of the basic capabilities of Arduino’s open-source software.  It reviews some of the terms they’ll need to know to figure out how to build a robot that can follow instructions.  The step-by-step illustrated learning modules make Thimble’s robotics kits for kids a breeze.  They’ll learn all the terms they need to understand, including terms like sketch, verify, and compile.  The module will also prompt your child to download certain “libraries” of prewritten code that they will use to control the robot.

This is a screenshot of a computer showing a completed Arduino setup.

Step 3:  Using Infrared (IR) Waves

We might help your kid make really cool toys, but we’re also pretty big on STEM Education.  So the next step involves a mini-lesson on Infrared and Electromagnetic waves.  We’ll toss in a little circumference and velocity, shake it all up, and then illustrate how these STEM topics tie into how to build a robot. (Spoiler: We’ll be using an infrared encoder to measure how far the motor turns.  Yay for learning!)

This is an image illustrating the Electromagnetic Wave spectrum, wavelength, and visible light.

Step 4:  Calibrating Line Finder Modules

Bear with us – we know this step sounds fancy – but if we told you it starts with a sharpie and a piece of paper, would it lower the fear-factor? These small blue squares are modules that connect to any digital socket with cables included in the STEM kit. (There isn’t really anything your child will need for this simple robot build that ISN’T included in the kit.) The line finder modules work partly with infrared technology as well.  Your child will upload a few bits of code to help these line finders work the way they want them to on their DIY robot.

Step 5:  Attach All Parts to the Base (a.k.a. Chassis) of the Robot

This is probably the step that kids imagine in their heads when they envision how to build a robot.  It’s attaching bits and pieces with screws and nuts, and wiring them all together.  Start step 5 by mounting the line finders on the chassis.  Then mount the motors and afterward, the robot’s special encoder wheels (made with stickers and flat discs).  Remember the Infrared lesson we had earlier?  It’s clutch to understand the purpose of the special encoder wheels.

Black and white striped circular stickers on a sticker sheet, next to two flat clear discs with holes in the middle. The black and white stickers attach to the discs to make special encoder wheels for this wifi robot.

To give the robot some balance, add a third wheel on the front of the base.  One of the hardest parts of figuring out how to make robots at home is deciding how to give them power and how to make robots move.  The next several pieces they will attach help to do just that.

This is a side view of the third wheel attached to the front of the wifi robot's chassis to give it balance.

Attach a battery compartment to the front of the chassis.  Next, stick the 12C motor driver in the middle of the chassis.  There will be some basic wiring here as your child connects the motor driver to the motors themselves.  Lastly, your child is ready to mount the Arduino board to the chassis.  They will attach it with three basic cables (of course provided in the kit).  And Voilá! They’ve successfully completed the hardware assembly of their first simple robot.

This is an image of the Wifi Robot's base with all pieces attached, and next to it are the three simple cables used to connect the Arduino.

How to Control Your Wifi Robot

The scary building part of how to make a robot at home is over, and all that’s left is the final step: give it some directions!  This is where the software bit comes into play.  Your child will calibrate the motor using the Automagic Calibration Program.  This small step is so easy it does feel like magic. This is where those fancy line finders and the stickers on the wheels work together for some IR Magic as well.  (It’s a lot of magic ok?)  Connect the robot to your wifi module.  You’ll use this wifi module to host a web server.  The controls for the robot will appear on the webserver like this:

This is an image showing the control buttons that appear on the Wifi Robot kit's webserver.

Robotics for kids is awesome in its versatility. This project is customizable in several ways.  Our learning portal will tell your child how to customize the font and colors of the control buttons. While this simple programmable mobile robot can’t make autonomous decisions and doesn’t have artificial intelligence like the robots on T.V., it can be controlled remotely with a tablet, cell phone, or computer. That’s pretty cool for a robot your child built at home!

You don’t need to cringe if your child asks how to build a robot, because Thimble’s Wifi Robot kit will successfully show them exactly how to make a robot at home – no tin foil required.  Looks like you’re on the hook for dinner.