Bristlebot: A tiny directional vibrobot

Enterprise

The BristleBot is a simple and tiny robot with an agenda. The ingredients? One toothbrush, a battery, and a pager motor. The result? Serious fun.
(YouTube video here.)

The BristleBot is our take on the popular vibrobot, a simple category of robot that is controlled by a single vibrating (eccentric) motor. Some neat varieties include the mint-tin version as seen in Make Magazine (check the video), and the kid’s art bot: a vibrobot with pens for feet.

Toothbrush   Angled Bristles

The starting point is of course the toothbrush. We need one that has more-or-less uniformly angled bristles. (While it may be possible to take one with straight bristles and bend them to suit, I haven’t tried.) If the bristle length is nonuniform (as it is here), it may take scissors to make the bristles all the same.
Snip   Robot Platform

Cut off the handle of the toothbrush, leaving only a neat little robotics platform.

Pager Motor   Motor & coin cells

Next, we need a vibrating pager motor or other tiny motor with an unbalanced output shaft. If you should happen to find a small enough motor you can always add the weight yourself, but usually motors this size are made for pagers anyway. I got mine on eBay for a few bucks; you can also get them here, for example.

The kind that I got are happy to run on almost any common voltage– probably a range of 1-9 V. As a power source, you can use an alkaline or lithium coin cell or watch battery, either 1.5 V or 3 V. To hook the motor to the battery I soldered short copper wire leads to the motor terminals.

Parts   Apply Tape

The last substantial ingredient is some foam tape. Apply a small piece to the top of the toothbrush robotic platform, which will be used to hold the motor in place.
Stick on motor   Cute but unstable

Attach the motor to the foam tape. The tape provides a spacer so that the rotating weight does not hit the toothbrush head. It also provides a strong, flexible connection to the base that is able to handle the severe vibration that this robot experiences. A first approach to hooking up the battery might be to stand it on end. However, the battery itself is not held in place very well this way and will fall out shortly.
Lead form   Enterprise

A better method is to bend one of the leads down flush with the foam tape, so that you can *stick* the battery to the foam tape as well and still make an electrical connection. The other lead contacts the other side of the battery, and the motor can run.

Lithium cell

The completed BristleBot, running and ready for action. When you set one down, you may notice that it tends to steer left or right. We have found that battery and motor placement, bristle shape (one stray long bristle can interfere with the motion, and motor rotation direction all influence the behavior- so be sure to try flipping the battery upside down if you have trouble getting yours to go straight.

Now and for the record, this is one of many different kinds of vibrobots– there are a lot of other designs out there if you go and look. We have heard of and seen many other vibrating robots, and we know that even using a brush with angled bristles for propulsion has been done before. However, this particular miniature implementation may be unique, and is certainly fun. Very few robots that you can build so easily are so rewarding. With the right parts, you can make one in a few minutes. It might be great fun to make a bunch of them to race them competitively.

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156 thoughts on “Bristlebot: A tiny directional vibrobot

      • you can buy the car at toys r us and i also saw a ford f350 lowrider 1:10 scale while there and i bought the lowrider.
        i did not use a ford explorer but yes a hummer h2.

  1. Howdy,

    We, the members of i3detroit, have made giant human-rideable bristlebot. The bristles are made of 8 push-broom heads. There is a battery powered scooter motor that drives and offset weight to provide vibration.

    This was built as a demonstration for the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

    The finished product

    The build process

    It’s lots of fun to ride and almost, but not quite, completely unsteerable. Thanks a lot for the inspiration.

  2. Howdy,

    We, the members of i3detroit, have made giant human-rideable bristlebot. The bristles are made of 8 push-broom heads. There is a battery powered scooter motor that drives and offset weight to provide vibration.

    This was built as a demonstration for the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

    The finished product

    The build process

    It’s lots of fun to ride and almost, but not quite, completely unsteerable. Thanks a lot for the inspiration.

  3. Howdy,

    We, the members of i3detroit, have made giant human-rideable bristlebot. The bristles are made of 8 push-broom heads. There is a battery powered scooter motor that drives and offset weight to provide vibration.

    This was built as a demonstration for the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

    The finished product

    The build process

    It’s lots of fun to ride and almost, but not quite, completely unsteerable. Thanks a lot for the inspiration.

  4. Hi All,

    We, the members of i3detroit, have made giant human rideable bristlebot. The bristles are made of 8 push-broom heads. There is a battery powered scooter motor that drives an offset weight to provide vibration.

    This was built as a demonstration for the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

    The finished product

    The build process

    It’s lots of fun to ride and almost, but not quite, completely unsteerable. Thanks a lot for the inspiriation.

  5. It’s a very funy and great idea !!!
    I read this and built a bigger one with two brushes and two motors, controlled by an atmel MEGA8 microcontroller :)
    He’s removing dust from my black desktop every night, starting, finishing and loading automatically every day.
    here’s a small video of a first testrun a few days ago.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROMX6PJg7OQ&feature=player_embedded
    today, i finished it, and there’ll be an english doku with plans and sourcecode soon. i’ll post the link this evening in the video comment on youtube.

  6. So, with regards to dipping them with paint and having them make a masterpiece, is that just like locking 1,000,000 monkeys in a room with 1,000,000 typewriters and having them eventually type out the works of Shakespeare ?

    • umm thats sorta mean…….. I did the paint thing and it worked but i had a RC motor from an old RC car so i could steer it and i spelled my name lol but if it wasnt RC it would go off the paper….. :b

  7. Hi guys! Thanks for an awesome video and build steps. So good, in fact, that when I suggested we build a batch of these for a christmas gift coop/exchange my wife immediately said “oooh! cool! yeah!”

    So I bought a batch of (old) pagers, sourced some 3v cr2032 batteries, and bought a bunch of different styles of toothbrush from the $1 store, and went to work.

    In the process I discovered a potential show-stopper…namely, the batteries don’t last. Like, for more than 4-5 minutes. While building the things, I’d occasionally attach a battery and watch it dance around for 20-30 seconds, then pull the battery out and keep tweaking. The thing couldn’t have run for more than perhaps 5 minutes total. But it kept getting slower…and slower… (left alone, the battery would “refresh” and be quick for a short run. But, of course, would quickly be slow again.)

    The motors extracted from the pagers looks an awful lot like this one, (except I had to solder my own leads)

    This happened both with some grocery-store bought Energizer cr2032′s as well as brand new Sony cells of the same type.

    Do I need an inline resister to reduce current? Is the lithium chemistry not up to the task? I also have some LR44 1.5v alkaline buttons on the way…will those live longer?

    At this point the project is a wash b/c it’d be sad to give something that only lasted through 1 play session.

    I guess I’m most curious about what kind of longevity did you all see with your cute little toys? Anyone else build some with the pancake pager motors…did they die quick? What kind of batteries did you use?

    (I mean really..do I need to rig a couple of AAA outriggers?!!) :)

    Thanks for any and all recommendations!

    -aaron

      • ahh-ha! They came out of motorola pagers that were powered by a single AA battery. So maybe those LR44 cells at 1.5 volts *will* last longer…

        :))) Oh happy day, happy day, happy day! Thank you!

        So now my only challenge is how to power the flashing rgb leds I bought … (think: transparent toothbrush head with flashing led buried in it’s body…mmm…) Hmmm….boosting 1.5v to 3v…maybe I’ll just use two different batteries. Icky, but I haven’t a clue how to boost voltage elegantly and cost-effectively. :)

        cheers!
        -aaron

  8. Just saw hex bugs nano toy at radio shack. Did Evil Mad Scientist help getting this product to market?

  9. soldering wires hard? Need a motor? Need everything? We have motors already soldered, motors are also covered by shrink tubes for durability! We even sell complete brushbot kits! Great for starting a brushbot project! We are a well driven high school robotics organization that just want to spread to excitement or robotics to the community!

    GO TO http://www.kalanirobotics.com

  10. you can make a custom one by gluing a tiny fishing weight to the end of a small motor. I did this, and it seemed to work well.

  11. im making this for a school project but my teacher says to make a bigger version of it any suggestions also i wanted to make it remote controlled is this possible???????

  12. Hi Folks,
    when I first saw your bristlebot project, I absolutely freaked you. I think this is absolutely amazing. At that time we were looking for a software and electronic involved project for our yearly girlsday at our Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. That day a horde of pre teenage student girls come to the institute to get an idea of the jobs we are doing.
    Then we got the idea to mock-up you bristlebot with some electronics (an Arduino board, photo transistors and some leds) and two bristles. Under supervision, we let the girls weld the electronics together and then let them program the arduino board to follow a black line.
    After some pre girlsday technical difficulties we finally made the bot run really well, so the girls didn’t have any difficilties to accomplish the task. The project was a real success for all of us, especially for the girls who each was able to take home their own robot for free, because at the end we were able to push the price for the robot to as low as 10$.
    If you want more information on that project, you can go to our homepage @ https://svn.mpia.de/trac/gulli/GirlsDay/wiki/2010 (see the videaos). Unfortunately it all written in German, because we primarily made that page for the kids to read more and get even more enthusiastic about that stuff.

    CU,
    Juergen

  13. YIKES! I bet MOM is MAD!
    Try finding outdated cell phones so you don’t get grounded.
    Also you can buy these already made called Nanobugs (Hexbugs)
    Granted it’s much more fun to create them yourself and much less expensive!
    The Nanobugs go for about $7.99 and up. Also you can find a book called Invasion of the Bristlebots by Klutz books. It includes parts to make two bristlebots yourself. It also has ideas on mazes, games, and painting with your Bristlebots. Have fun…but NO MORE taking your Mom’s cell apart!

    • Speaking of the Klutz book [and hexbots] which distantly followed on the heels of your Brushbots, I recently visited with Pat Murphy of Klutz who says the new edition of the book fully credits and praises the invention by Windell and Lenore of evilmadscientist. Pat is still quite apologetic about Everything plus putting you in center of the webwide ruckus -she is totally blame-absorbant!
      She worships the ground you hover over.
      Pat said her assistant was supposed to send you guys a stack of the new edition and she wondered if I read that you got em.
      Say, if you guys didn’t get those books, say so. She SO seriously wants to know!
      Best,
      yer fan forever
      Whitefang
      Dark Carnival Bookstore, Berkeley

  14. LOL…For Mother’s Day I bought myself the Invasion of the Bristlebots book by Klutz. He has a whole collection of the Nanobugs by Hexbugs…and then I saw the book. It is SO COOL! I told him the book was MOMMY’S book not his. He gives me sad eyes and says…"will you share with me"…LOL Of course I will! I wanted him to want the Bristlebots so we could build them together instead of buying all the pre-made ones. Homemade ones are much more fun and less expensive. Plus he’s learning to create and recycle! AWESOME ARTICLE! Now I"m going to dig out my old cell phones to liberate their motors! :0)

  15. The Klutz book and the Hexbug Nano came long after this article and both were inspired by this project and the thousands of BristleBots that our reader made. To compare them in this way is more than a bit misleading.

    And, there’s no reason to take apart a cell phone. Pager motors are readily available, brand new, by the bagfull.


    Windell H. Oskay
    drwho(at)evilmadscientist.com
    http://www.evilmadscientist.com/

  16. That’s what my husband said. He dug out his old vibration football game and we put the Bristlebots on it.! Hysterical! Our son LOVED it! He wants to build a "swarm" of them. OUr cats love them too! Thanks sooooo much for the family fun project. I’m going to use this as a science fair idea later! TOTALLY AWESOME!
    Maverick8901

  17. ahh thank you so much these are awesome, i have made a colllection of about 20!!! question: Can you remove the vibrating motor from a toothbrush and somehow rewire it so that it vibrates?

    • if it doesnt imbalance it (like put it on the battery) it might work. I dont know I havent made one. where to get the motor? we has flat phones…

  18. i actually put a plastic wrap on it and put it in my mouth didint work too well, fell out, the second time it got stuck in my braces…………………………………………..

  19. Does anyone know where to buy the exact Oral B toothbrush in the video? I make three bristlebots from different toothbrushes. I want to speed test them versus the original. I think one of mine might be faster. Oral B changed the Crossaction Vitalizer and its different now.

    reposted with my user login. sorry :)

  20. Not an Oral B, but a grocery-store knockoff. This particular toothbrush is *not* a particularly good choice because the bristles are all different lengths– you’ll need to trim them for stability.


    Windell H. Oskay
    drwho(at)evilmadscientist.com
    http://www.evilmadscientist.com/

  21. Such a great world we live in where they steal a nice little idea like this, try to patent it, mass produce it and con parents out of $15. And then go along and sue anyone who does the exact same thing they did.

  22. A bristlebot, so cool. Me and my dad are gonna try to make it. How did u think of the idea for a bristlebot?

  23. Flip The Battery so it is laying on the tape, put one of the wires underneath it and above it. It will keep it on better.

  24. This page was inspiration behind my son and I building our own bristlebots as part of his 7th birthday party. That’s right, I led a group of 7- and 8-year-olds in building these things. Thanks for this.

    The ones we made were different from yours, but easier to use/assemble (I think). They also had an on-off switch. More information here, along with a little video of how we built ‘em:

    [link:]http://andimthedad.com/post/23226567583/bristlebots

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