Robot Hands! Make a fun robotic hand that you can control

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Do you have a child who is into robots like mine? If so, I’ve got a great engineering and technology experiment for you to try out today!

Building a simple robotic hand using straws and yarn is an exciting project that combines art, engineering, and science. This hands-on activity will not only provide hours of entertainment but also introduce your child to the fascinating world of robotics and basic engineering principles.

Let’s “Do the Robot Dance” (one of our favorite songs)!

How to make the Robot Hands engineering and technology experiment

Supplies you will need

For this experiment, you will need the following:

  • 5 straws
  • Marker
  • String or yarn
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Cardboard (large enough to cover your hand)
  • Optional: colored paper
Supplies needed for the Robot Hands! technology and engineering experiment

Before you start

Watch your child around the scissors and in case there are any sharp corners left in your straw pieces.

Instructions

Here is how to do this experiment with your child:

Step 1: Make cuts in all of your straws

We are going to make angled cuts along each straw to mimic the joints in our fingers. Hold a straw up to your finger and mark where your joints are, then cut an angled cut at each joint.

Mark along the finger joints
Make angled cuts at each of the joints

Step 2: Cut and thread the string or yarn

Thread the string or yarn through each straw and tape the string to the end of the straw so it stays put.

Then, leave several inches of string or yarn below the straw so you can pull it.

Thread your string or yarn through each straw
Tape a small amount of string or yarn at the top of the straw
All straws threaded with string, taped at the top, and cut several inches below the straw

Step 3: Prep the cardboard backing

You can go one of two ways here: you can either trace your hand on a piece of cardboard and cut it out, then tape the straw “fingers” to it, or you can place a colored piece of paper on a piece of cardboard to make your straw “fingers” pop.

I chose to use colored paper on a rectangular piece of cardboard for simplicity. I taped down a piece of colored paper to the cardboard.

Then, tape the base of the robotic fingers to the cardboard so the rest of the fingers are free to move.

Taping the optional construction paper to the cardboard
Determining the finger placement before taping each straw “finger” down
Taped robot hand!

Step 4: Make your robotic hand move!

To make your robotic hand move, simply tug on the string or yarn to make the fingers move!

See how many different movements you can make with the hand (like a peace sign, rock ‘n roll), or if your robotic hand is strong enough to pick something up!

Showing the movement of the robot hand, pinky finger down
Showing the movement of the robot hand, “I love you” sign

The lesson behind the Robot Hands engineering and technology experiment

This experiment teaches:

  • Basic anatomy and biomechanics
  • Engineering principles
  • Creativity and innovation

How it works

This experiment involves creating a robotic hand using straws, yarn or string, and tape.

The straws represent the bones of the hand, the cuts in the straws represent the finger’s joints, and the yarn acts as the muscles and tendons, connecting the straws to the wrist.

By pulling the yarn at the wrist, the hand’s fingers move, demonstrating basic principles of biomechanics and showing how muscles and joints work together to produce motion.

Basic anatomy and biomechanics

Building a robot hand gives kids an analogy to how our own hands move (plus, most kids love robots!).

By explaining that the straws are like the bones in our hands and the yarn/string acts like the tendons and muscles, kids can start to understand the basic anatomy of our hands. Plus, they can learn more about the biomechanics behind bending and straightening our hands.

Engineering principles

Building a robotic hand introduces kids to engineering concepts as they figure out the design and structure of how to build it.

So many variables go into the construction of a robotic hand, like how to make the hand move smoothly and efficiently, how much yarn to use to ensure it covers all of the fingers, and problem-solving when yarn gets caught or the fingers do not move properly.

Creativity and innovation

To add an extra element, kids can get creative with their robotic hands and draw fingernails, color the fingers, and customize their robotic hand.

They can also experiment with different designs to see how small adjustments can impact the functionality of their robotic hand. What if we didn’t add as many knuckles into our hand? How does that affect how the fingers bend?

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