What do I build with?
March 7, 2013 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I've been messing around with small motors via Arduino, but I realized I have absolutely nothing with which to make stuff that will be powered by said motors. What's a inexpensive box-o'-parts construction set for moving parts?

In college we used Lego Mindstorms sets, but Lego ain't exactly inexpensive (or is it?) What should I be looking for? A box of assorted Erector stuff? Tub of K'nex? A direct link to something I can buy is appreciated.

Fabbing stuff is out of the question. At the lo-fiest end of that, I've seen people do stuff with cardboard and precision knives, but neither my drafting or cutting skills are up to par to make the work worth the result.
posted by griphus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
American Science and Surplus has stuff like this.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:26 AM on March 7, 2013

Yard sales are great sources for Lego. Including really cheap mindstorms.

It's an acquired skill and possibly borderline evil, but sweet talking boys in their late teens out of their childhood Lego collections sometimes results in valuable hauls.

I don't have any experience with Arduino and Lego, but it sounds like a cool idea.
posted by Folk at 11:40 AM on March 7, 2013

I've been leading kids in the 4H Junk Drawer Robotics curriculum recently. We started with some hot glue guns, a bunch of paint stirrer sticks, bamboo shish-kabob skewers, popsicle sticks, paper and binder clips, that sort of thing. This fall we're starting on book 2, adding a bunch of gears from the aforementioned American Science & Surplus and similar vendors, and motors, and the like.

Really it's amazing what you can accomplish with some cheap wood, a wallboard knife, a fine bladed saw, a drill, and a hot glue gun. Gear trains, steering mechanisms, all that stuff really aren't that hard to put together with hot glue.
posted by straw at 12:14 PM on March 7, 2013

When I was a kid I had a hammer and a screwdriver and a penchant for poking around in trash cans for old appliances. These days you can get a lot of great components by scrounging inside old laser or inkjet printers -- they're full of great gear trains and motors and bearings and whatnot. Maybe there's an electronics recycling depot you can go to, or just see what you can pick up on the street and ... DISASSEMBLE!
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:29 PM on March 7, 2013

Response by poster: Er, I may not have been clear enough: I want the easiest, least-effort route to building a thing, which is why I'm looking for a pre-made set where the pieces already exist and are built to fit with each other in useful ways from the get-go. The idea is that I do not want to cut, glue or disassemble anything.
posted by griphus at 12:36 PM on March 7, 2013

Yeah, I got that, and the reason I pointed you towards the Junk Drawer Robotics curriculum was...

Even with Lego, it's only a short time before you start to break out the sheet styrene and the solvent cements, or the 3d printer to print your own custom parts that interoperate with the Lego bricks. Really, it's easier to just start by cutting and gluing.
posted by straw at 12:45 PM on March 7, 2013

American Science and Surplus is always the answer.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:48 PM on March 7, 2013

What is it that you want to build?

If you just want a wheeled robot platform to hang motors and sensors off of, you can buy relatively inexpensive kits. Check out robotshop.com to get a sense of what is available.

If you want something more modular, check out OpenBeam

If that's too expensive, I'd look for some stiff square wood or plastic stock that you can cut with a small saw and connect up with hotglue, zipties, screws, etc.
posted by Good Brain at 3:01 PM on March 7, 2013

Best answer: If you look on ebay for mindstorms sets that lack the computer stuff, you can often get a lot of parts quite affordably, and it has the advantage that the parts will always be good - for later projects you will always be able to buy additional parts that work perfectly with your existing bits, and you will always have a HUGE range of mechanical and moving and specialty parts (all kinds of differentials, etc), that you can buy individually via Bricklink

Then, once you've got your device prototyped and working in Lego, you can fairly easily and inexpensively make a final version using your own custom plastic via laser-cutting services, such as from Ponoko, where you upload your cutting template and they mail you your parts.
posted by anonymisc at 6:02 PM on March 7, 2013

Response by poster: Just got bunch of asst'd Mindstorms/Technic pieces on eBay and a pack of Sugru. Thanks, anonymisc, everyone!
posted by griphus at 5:46 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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