How to Make a Cardboard Robot

Written by matt scheer
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Robots recall images from Terminator or RoboCop, in which evil man-made computers go on a rampage, but essentially robots are nothing more than computers with sensors. Programming instructs the computer to respond in specific ways to inputs from a sensor. In this way even your dusk-to-dawn device on your outdoor lights is a robot, albeit a very elementary one. Most people, however, think of robots that can move with servos, giving the robot forces through which to drive wheels or move limbs. Whatever kind of robot you wish to make, cardboard offers a good prototyping material for various levels of sophistication.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Cardboard
  • Razor blade
  • Pencil
  • Tape
  • Electrical components or a robotics kit
  • Screws and accessory nuts

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  1. 1

    Create a simple silhouette of a robot on cardboard for kids. Draw your robot onto the cardboard with a pencil. Draw straight lines and edges with the ruler in order to mimic the aesthetic of much robot imagery. Cut out your drawing with the razor blade. Hang the robot on a bedroom wall for a space themed room or place it on a desk or shelf to accompany a student of science fiction. Try creating a human sized cardboard silhouette to put over a bedroom door.

  2. 2

    Create a three dimensional cardboard robot for a child's toy. Measure out fifteen cross shapes on your cardboard with your pencil and ruler. Make thirteen of the cross shapes the same size and the other two twice as large. Draw each cross shape so that you can fold the sides of the cross together to form a cube. Cut out each cross and fold them into many cubes. Tape each one to hold the cube shape together except for one face of the cube. Puncture a small hole into the centre of the face of this loose side and insert a 1 inch screw into it. Tighten the screw to the side using the nuts. Leave enough room on the end of the screw to insert the head of the screw through the centre of another loose cube side. Tighten the two faces together with one additional nut. Assemble the cubes into the robot shape by using three cubes for each limb and the two largest cubes for the torso. This action creates a cardboard robot toy that has rotating joints.

  3. 3

    Create a simple cardboard rolling prototype with electrical components and servos to move the wheels. Cut another large cross shaped cube. Puncture two opposing sides with four holes to insert the axis of the wheels. Install a servo, such as a micro servo from Adafruit or an HS-422 standard servo from Lynxmotion, and breakout board, which contains the power pack and microprocessor, to the inside of the cube. Do not use adhesive as you'll most likely wish to use the parts elsewhere and just test out the components in a cardboard shell. Insert a 9V battery to the powerpack to run the rolling robot.

Tips and warnings

  • If you plan to make a cardboard robot with servos, make sure your different parts match in voltage. Using unaffiliated components can lead to short outs.
  • Short outs are a real danger since cardboard is flammable. Take care when using electrical components in cardboard that nothing overheats. Keep plenty of ventilation in closed cardboard spaces and consider having microfans or heat sinks if your components are complex enough to need them.

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