Monday, February 17, 2014

Teen Tech Project #1 : Solar Bugs

For the past few years, library makerspaces have become quite The Thing.  Unfortunately we don't all have the space, staff, or $$ that it takes to set something like that up as a permanent thing.   Starting with the current round of programming (we divide the year up into 3 newsletters, and plan things far in advance so that we can get them printed and out to residents), I'm doing at least one Teen Tech Project every time.  This was my first, and required a bit of self education.  I've never messed with electronics and things like that, but I'm glad to be learning!  For this project I had to learn to solder, which was very easy.

This is the project we did. Once again I found myself in a position where the instructions are written assuming a certain amount of prior knowledge that I didn't have.  For example, at one point it says you need "Scrap Wire...they can be anything".  Now, I know enough to know that PROBABLY there are at least a few things that wouldn't work.  But I don't know enough to know the difference between something that obviously WILL or obviously WON'T work.  So I'm going to break it down for you here in excruciating detail.

What You Need:


To make the Solar Bug function:

2v Solar Cells 
It looks like the seller I bought from doesn't have anymore, but the description should help you.  There aren't a lot of non-shady places to get these, most people I talked to said to use e-bay. I lucked out that this seller had them on Amazon.
Tiny Motors
Soldering iron and Solder (Ask your IT and facilities departments, they probably have these!)
Wire Cutters (again, IT and facilities)
Wire to connect the Motor to the Solar Cell (link goes to what I used, which is what he used in his instructions.  If you have a better knowledge of what counts as useable "scrap wire", use what you like!)

To make the solar bug into a creature:

Big paper clips, cut down with wire snips
Hot glue gun and glue sticks

totally optional:

Pipe Cleaners
Googly Eyes
Tiny Bells
Anything else you may want to add--though keep in mind you have to keep the solar panel uncovered!

 The Process:

Decide how much soldering you want the teens to do.  I decided "just a little" and so I did the first bit myself and had them do the less fiddly bit.

There exists a tool called a "helping hand" and if you have one, they look like they would be super helpful.  If you don't, you can totally rig a system of binder clips.  The first step is to solder your "scrap wire" or resistor (snip it apart from the thing in the middle so you have two plain wire pieces) to the motor. 

The quick-and-dirty of soldering is that you want to hold the hot tip of the soldering iron to your wire near where you want to solder two things together.  The heat will travel down the wire---you are NOT touching the solder to the soldering iron!  After 10-20 seconds, touch your solder to the wire, keeping the iron in place.  Does the solder melt? Great! Goop that all in there to hold things together.  If it doesn't, give it a few more seconds. It's important to keep contact between the iron and the wire, or else it will cool off and you start over.


Here's how I held things steady.  My first attempt included a clip torn from an old conference badge.


Both sides are in place and soldered!

I did this step for all of the motors, and then assembled kits for each teen that had all the basic parts:


Then the teens bent the wires so that they would touch the contact points of the solar cell (not seen above...they're on the underside).  We used binder clips for this too, along the long edge of the cell leaving plenty of wire exposed. Then you can lift the motor up a bit so that it has a little more room to turn. 

There you go!  At this point, take it outside to see if it works!  You will definitely know if it does.  I found that we needed direct, outdoor sunlight to make them go.

To make it into a jiggly creature, unbend the paperclip wire into legs and hot glue them to the bottom.  After that it's all a matter of personal taste.  This is my little practice bug:

He looks depressed. Probably wishes he were dancing!


From the side.

Here's a link to a video of mine moving

I liked adding googly eyes and bells because they add some movement and noise.  Some of my teens added things to the spinning part of the motor, so that their bots would have a tails that twirled!  So cute!  Here are some photos of their projects:







2 comments:

  1. What was your approximate cost per bot?

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  2. about $3.10 not including supplies on hand (pipe cleaners, googley eyes, glue guns, etc.) and I have about ten solar cells left over.

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