Making and Coding Drawing Machines

I’ve posted before about our new MakeBlock robotics kit in school. We decided to expand it this year to include loads of new sensors and components. Most of the stuff is new to everyone in the school, including the teachers, so a lot of what we are doing is often exploratory. Before an upcoming staff training session I wanted the students to use it first to create various machines and inventions. The plan is to have these student creations as demonstrations to show the teachers some of the cool stuff the kids can do.


The MakeBlock equipment is really great as it nicely bridges the gap between more closed robotics platforms (lego, vex, etc) and more complex microcontroller based stuff (arduino, hummingbird, raspberry pi). Coding is all done in a variant of Scratch which also means the students needed zero extra input in terms of the environment they would be coding in.

For this drawing machine project they were simply tasked with using any components they liked to build a robot that autonomously can draw. The initial lesson was spent just connecting components to the main board to see how they can be made to work. Most students chose to use motors, servos and LEDs as they seemed useful to the task or just looked kinda cool.

The students then worked in groups over a 90 minute session to try to build a drawing machine in a group. The results were stunning. Most went with a car shaped base which, initially, was a little disappointing but did make sense as the easiest way to make a moving object with their current knowledge. Some chose to use servos to build a drawing arm while others simply programmed movement instructions and strapped on pens to go along for the ride. I think you only need to see the look on the kids faces to see that they created something that they are really proud of.

All coding was done on the students Chromebooks using the Mblock Scratch variant. They then connect the mainboard over USB and send it the code in arduino mode. This is really straightforward and is better for this sort of project than remotely controlling using an iPad over Bluetooth. The advantage of coding this way is that the board will then remember the student’s program when it is then switched on.

The video at the top shows some of the student made machines and they talk about their coding. I am looking forward to the staff doing the same project with input from the students.