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building and hacking Robots:

lost in (Maker) space  

Microsoft Innovative Teacher, software designer, scientist and digital technology expert Michael Fenton shares ideas to support students, parents and teachers engage with the new Digital Technologies Hangarau Matihiko curriculum.

On this page, building a robot forthe Sumo battle or Maze solving competitions...

Solve a maze: 

The new Lost in Space series on Netflix is the inspiration for a "Rescue the Robinsons" maze competition.

This entry involves a scratch-built robot, the purchase of a kit to assemble, or the purchase of a ready-made pre-assembled robot.
B9 Robot with Will Robinson

YOUR MISSION: The Robinson family is lost in space, stranded on a strange new planet after their spaceship, the Jupiter 2, has crash-landed. Two of the children, Will and Penny Robinson, have gone out to survey the crash site, but have not returned.

Send your robot to rescue the Robinsons!

The robots that navigate the maze to find the Robinsons in the best time will win monetary prizes.

The maze will be published HERE SOON....

Fight a Sumo battle:

Sumo robot competitions have been prevalent in Japan, with the first competition being held in 1989 with only 33 robots, by 2001, the number was over 4,000.

This entry involves a scratch-built robot, the purchase of a kit to assemble, or the purchase of a ready-made pre-assembled robot.

YOUR MISSION: Sumo-bot wrestling requires robots to push or flip each other out of a circular ring (dohyo). A robot that is flipped & immobilized or pushed outside of the dohyo loses, the other robot wins a yuko point. The first to gain two yuko points wins the match.

Design the best sumo fighting robot in Taranaki!

Entrants will battle the robots on the day of the fair, and the robots with the best performance will win monetary prizes.

The ring dimensions will be published HERE SOON...

Construction ideas - Edison V2 robot  (Sumo or Maze entry)

Tim Carr from Mindkits.co.nz kindly supplied two of these amazing robots, real value-for-money and intuitive to use.

First of all, I hate looking at naked robots. C3P0 looked creepy without his metal skin, and the T800 Terminator gives me nightmares still. Robots should be "dressed" or be designed with a type of "costume" in mind. Making and designing are creative acts so why not make a functional machine that also looks interesting or inspiring?

Edison robots are LEGO compatible, so I decided to put my childrens old bricks to good use;

How can you make your robot look more interesting with a body modification or costume covering?

You could use card or other materials but keep in mind the Edison sensors still need to do their jobs!

You could research some famous robots for ideas to make Edison a body to be proud of!

Features of the Edison V2 robot:
  • Great introduction to robotics and coding for Primary / Intermediate students
  • Works straight out of the box, (once batteries inserted); no programming needed to see results!
  • Can be programmed by bar codes provided, for immediate obstacle avoidance, sumo, etc.
  • EdBlocks programming interface simple to use for beginners - no language to learn!
  • EdPy text-based programming for more advanced use to learn coding skills
  • Cheap, easy to use universal programming lead that plugs in to any headphone jack on any device
A great robot for under $70 that works on any device (Apple, Windows, smartphone), grows with the user from novice to expert and is very well constructed and robust.

In the video above you will see I added a PICAXE 08M2 chip to flash the lights in the chest cavity.


For experts or advanced builders: It is possible to add a range of different sensors, such as temperature or colour sensors, to the PICAXE chip and then programme the PICAXE to send an IR signal to Edison. Edison can be programmed to move in response to the IR signal.

This opens the Edison up to a much wider set of environmental conditions to monitor, moving in response to the external sensors attached to the PICAXE.

You could have a heat-seeking Edison!

Construction ideas - Arduino or PICAXE robot  (Sumo or Maze entry)

Here again it adds a lot of appeal to have a fully "dressed" robot. Rather than letting people see the bare circuitry and gears, why not make a body costume to make your robot look more interesting and appealing?

You could recycle parts from an old analogue TV like I did here in the video below:

OP1 is a PICAXE-based robot with a L239D motor controller and a Bluetooth module. He operates on 8 C-size cells (12 volts DC).

OP1 senses the environment for temperatue and static electricity, sending the data back to my smartphone for graphing. I can also take control of OP1 to drive the robot remotely. There is a MP3 player module to produce sound effects. On the front is an ultrasonic range finder module, an aid to avoiding obstacles when OP1 autonomously explores his surroundings.

Suppliers of kits and parts;

There are a number of suppliers of PICAXE and Arduino kits and parts. Try Mindkits or Jaycar or Surplustronics.

I have recently seen Arduino Smart Car kits at www.dx.com  who also provide motor controllers, bluetooth modules, ultrasonic range finders, etc, often with free delivery.  I have found them very reliable, but some parts take a few weeks to arrive, depending on availablility.


The Arduino Smart Car kit is a great deal.

AND you can substitute easily a simpler breadboard with a PICAXE 18M2 chip to replace the Arduino board and sensor board.

Keep the Arduino and sensor board for another time!

Add a bluetooth module for just US$4 and you have your own OP1 robot!

Robot Gallery for ideas...small to VERY LARGE

If you want to receive data from your robot via bluetooth just like OP1, I use

Edison V2 robot

Baby Bot

Available from Mindkits.co.nz
Edison V2 robot - B9 from Lost in Space

Baby Bot

PICAXE code to flas the lights is included here;


I have deliberately made the code  in long form for  novice or beginner students to read.

How could you rewrite the code to be shorter and more efficient?
B9 lego robot

PICAXE-based Casio Graphics Calculator controlled robot


CASI is part of the RIGEL project, used in my Calculus and Physics classes. Find out more about building a PICAXE games app link and  home-made science and maths equipment here for student-led problem-based learning in STEM.

Arduino two wheel smart car


Also order two line sensors if you want to have a line follower.
And/or bluetooth module for full OP1 functionality

Order the kit or sensor modules from www.dx.com
two wheel smart car

PICAXE 14M based robot


The body shell is from an old TV / radio and  hides the circuitry of a modified two wheeled smart car (above). Add a MP3 player module for sound effects.

I used a PICAXE chip to replace the Arduino board.

Full-size replica..too big for competitions but a very nice STEM project to build!

Arduino or PICAXE controlled.

Students can sit inside and operate the Dalek.

Runs on 6 C-size cells.

Dome lights flash in time with voice modulator, gun fires with sound effect.


Original fun experiments & technology to build for authentic maths and science investigations for all ages;

visit      www.NexusResearchGroup.com

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