Can Legos Be Used for Automata?

  • The cardboard version that the Lego version will try to replicate.
  • Team tackling the challenge.
  • Using Lego pieces in innovative ways.
  • Using Lego pieces in innovative ways.
  • Testing the cam.
  • Trying to attach the cam follower.
  • Stepping back to analyze their team's work.
  • Moving in to try an new idea.
  • Looking at the work of others to provide inspiration for his own work.
  • An extra set of hands to help with some delicate work.
  • Closely inspecting the work to make sure it fits just right.
  • A working example!
  • Automata in two different flavors - cardboard or Lego.

Project Description

After four days of building automata out of cardboard, students asked a very good question: What else can we make automata out of? Legos were easily accessible, so they took up the challenge with this new material. A quick vote at the start of class had only around 20 percent thinking that it could be done.

Using a cardboard automata as an example, and remembering what they had identified during their parts, purposes and complexities (PPC) work, students recognized what fundamental structures need to be in place. They also knew that some parts from the cardboard version weren’t going to be needed because the purpose of that original part was met by other parts made of Legos. But not all of them…

The triangle supports they realized weren’t needed because of how the Legos interlock with one another. A┬ápart to fulfill the role of the straw however was much more difficult to achieve, however. The straw originally held the vertical stick up, and allowed it to spin┬ámore easily by reducing the amount of friction put on the stick. There was no straw in the Lego set, so new ways of holding the stick up and keeping friction low had to be found.

Many techniques used an open frame that the vertical stick rested in, but the lack of support made it unreliable. The break through occurred when a white 2×4 piece was found that had three holes in it – the vertical rod sat perfectly in it when a bushing was added to help hold it in place. Once that piece was found, teams shared the information with others and progress began anew at a very rapid pace.

The last big challenge involved determine what to make the cams in the inside of the automata out of. Earlier in the PPC, some groups called the cams wheels and other called them gears. Both of these specific types of parts were available in the Lego bins. It was interesting to see how teams made use of the matching parts, or a combination of these parts, to try to achieve they goal of spinning the minifig at the top of their automata.

In the end, with two working examples, students asked to take the Lego sets back to their classrooms to try and finish their builds. With a simple “Yes you may” from their teacher, their science time instantly become MakerEd STEM time!

Project Details


First Grade

Related Portfolios