How to Make a Bristlebot a Tiny Directional Vibrobot Made from a Toothbrush!

Robotics Technology
How to Make a Bristlebot a Tiny Directional Vibrobot Made from a Toothbrush!


Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories made a cute bristlebot! They write –

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. 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.

HOW TO – Make a Bristlebot a tiny directional vibrobot – Link.

28 thoughts on “How to Make a Bristlebot a Tiny Directional Vibrobot Made from a Toothbrush!

  1. Daenris says:

    Or, instead of the pager motor, you could just use one of the Oral B Pulsar toothbrushes, which has pretty much that exact motor already in it.

  2. aeo says:

    Please don’t call these things “robots”. They’re cute, I agree, but they’re not robots.

  3. pt says:

    i think it’s a robot… not a QRIO or something that needs a bladerunner to chase it down…

    ==A robot is a mechanical or virtual, artificial agent. It is usually an electromechanical system, which, by its appearance or movements, conveys a sense that it has intent or agency of its own.==

  4. Gary says:

    Quick note… don’t build it exactly like the one in the first photo above. The battery looks to be shorted out. Perhaps wrap the wire running past the side of the battery with tape so it won’t make a connection there. You only want that wire to touch the center (negative) terminal. Or skip the tape and simply flip the battery over. :)

  5. Windell Oskay says:

    Gary: that’s just an illusion form the angle of the photo; It’s not close to shorted. :)

  6. Jayenkai says:

    OMG! That’s so cool!
    I actually LOL’d when I saw it zooming away! I wasn’t expecting anything near as fast as that!

  7. e c kern says:

    pt: aeo is correct. to be called a robot, something needs sensors, actuators, and some sort of logic between them. this (and other “vibrobots”) lacks sensors and therefore is not a robot.

    if you consider this to be a robot you must consider all other powered mechanical things to be robots. cell phone on vibrate sliding on desk as it rings? robot. unbalanced washing machine creeping on floor? robot. running lawnmower with duct-tape wrapped around clutch handle? robot. at that point the word ‘robot’ becomes meaningless.

    one of the annoying parts of being an actual robotics hacker is dealing with popular misconceptions of robots, and when you take a technical term like robot and apply it arbitrarily it doesn’t help.

  8. pt says:

    @e c kern – you might want to update the wikipedia entry for robot and maybe others places …

    keep in mind we said it was a “vibrobot” and a “BristleBot” — i think that’s ok, so is “art bot” for the ones that draw… “robot” is ok provided there’s more text and images to explain, like there is here and on emsl.

  9. pepik says:

    I love those guys. This is very similar to my vibrobot, but I used a paper clip instead of a toothbrush.

  10. adam r says:

    Well, I took the liberty of looking to the OED for the real definition of the word ‘robot’ and found ‘an automaton’, so I look to automaton and find “Something which has the power of spontaneous motion or self-movement.” Thusly, these little virobots are certainly ‘robots’. It seems we can deduce that the concept of a ‘robot’ requiring sensors of any kind can be attributed to the connotations of hobbyists, and not the denotation of the word itself.

  11. Gareth Branwyn says:

    That’s awesome, Windell! And the video is really perfectly done. Love the music and sound F/X. You guys are a constant inspiration.

    Re: the def. of “robot”
    For my book, Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots, I devoted a whole chapter to defining the term. I asked a bunch of preeminent roboticists to define “robot.” I got back almost as many defs are people I asked. Like, some don’t consider any kind of BEAMbot or other sense-act architected machine to be a robot, that it MUST have some form of cogitation in the chain (sense-plan-act), others don’t think it’s really a robot if it’s not autonomous. At least one thought it was a robot if you said it was, it being more about the *idea* than the hardware/software, so a model of a robot has just as much right to be a robot as a sense-plan-act machine because the popular imagination says so.

    I tend to think of a robot as needing to at least have some type of logic (i.e. no map building or software, but very crude “planning”), so personally, I would agree with EC Kern’s def, but as I said, even in the robot community, there are gray areas. And as Phil says, “vibroBOT” is an established category of BEAM technology, and “bristlebot” a worthy variant.

  12. Michael says:

    These are absolutely robots.

    They perform an action (scuttle around). They respond to external stimuli (they change direction when they hit an obstacle/floor variation).

    Just because the “logic” is carried out by mechanical means doesn’t mean it’s not a robot. The first computers were entirely mechanical, does this mean they did not compute?

    @kern I would also consider cell phones and washing machines to be robots. i.e. You program in the wash cycle (via a knob) and the machine autonomously performs the job and stops when finished. A cell phone “senses” incoming rf energy, decodes it, and automatically turns it into something useful for you. Buttons are sensors after all.

    The best definition of a robot I’ve heard is any device which can perform an action in response to a stimuli. Thus everything from toasters to computers can count as a robot.

  13. frozendevil says:

    I know this might seem like a dumb question for you seasoned make/hack-ers, but where does one get pager motors?

  14. cyenobite says:

    Windell (and EMS) is a genius!
    This thing is awesome!
    I too was amazed at how fast it went!
    Thanks for posting!
    Ok, great, now I’ve used up my daily allowance of exclamation points!

  15. pepik says:

    @frozendevil You can get the pager motors out of old cell phones — that’s what I do. My office has a bin for recycling phones and batteries, so I liberate some motors before sending them on their way to be recycled. Nokias are easy to remove if you’ve got a torx head set. I don’t, so I had to remove those screws with pliers. Still, pretty easy.

  16. Rollette says:

    If you made a bigger brush and cleaned my shower, you would have something! maybe vibrated out some bleach as it booked around.

  17. aeo says:

    Okay then, majority rules that any mechanical thing is a robot including toasters, fence gates (they blow closed when the wind blows), and venus flytraps (the retraction cells are mechanical after all). No sense drawing lines when the term is so open to interpretation.

    These little pager motor robots ARE cool though.

  18. x says:

    @aeo or, if you go by michael’s “they change direction when they hit an obstacle/floor variation” definition all other materials subject to newton’s third law are too.

  19. Justin says:

    Wow, that’s actually really impressive. I didn’t think it would go that fast!

  20. says:

    Nice invention!

    But what about honoring the “robot” definition,
    making a bridge between two of these, and then
    some logic and RF to control output to each motor?

    One could even make a platform upon 4 units, each pointing 45 degrees out from each corner.

    My 2 cents..

  21. Dug North says:

    I’ve been wrestling with the toy/robot/automaton distinction in my mind for years and am no closer to a definition that satisfies.

    On a more practical note: I can’t seem to find a toothbrush with bristles biased in just one direction. My old ones are straight bristled and all of the new ones at the store seem to be some kind of crazy “cross-action” with bristles pointing in both directions.

    I can’t believe I’m asking for this…but can anyone point me to a source?


    Dug North

  22. SageFox says:

    On the whole robot/not robot subject: many beambots have no sensors, they just let their motors carry them around. They are concidered robots, so… yeah.

    Though it is really just an opinion, some think it is, some don’t. It’s not really even that important.

  23. jimmy says:

    are you guys seriously discussing whether or not this thing is a robot???????? who cares, its a cool idea. robot or not….

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  27. Watch as “Ask a Lawyer” Tackles Legality in the Maker World | Make: says:

    […] the subject of Attribution and ownership, Phil shared a story about bristlebots, the cute little vibrating “bugs” made from toothbrush heads. They were used in a book […]

  28. Watch as “Ask a Lawyer” Tackles Legality in the Maker World – News Feed Center | The Internet At A Glance says:

    […] the subject of Attribution and ownership, Phil shared a story about bristlebots, the cute little vibrating “bugs” made from toothbrush heads. They were used in a book and […]

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