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SWON News: The Low Down

Plotting and Brushbotting

Wednesday, June 18, 2014  
Posted by: Nathan Swartzendruber
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In the last week I’ve gotten to lead two brushbot programs in public libraries. Brushbots, you might remember, put a coin battery and pager motor on top of a toothbrush head. The bot, which looks more like a bug, buzzes and spins on the table.

Of course they all want to jump into building their own, but first I show them each of the parts, describe what they do, and set them thinking about why the brushbot moves like it does.

What other vehicle has a motor that goes around and around, overhead? A helicopter! Why doesn’t a helicopter just spin? It has a second rotor pointing sideways that controls the spin and lets it move in any direction. We can’t add a second motor, but when the brushbot comes up against a wall, it tends to scoot straight along it!

I made a large circle out of two long strips of poster board, which they recognized right away: It’s an arena! With no instructions, no scoring, no official game, they piled their brushbots in to compete. Same with the race track, which is just a set of metal shelf-hanging rails. Space the rails about two inches apart and the kids, Ready, Set, Go!

It’s great to see 15 tweens fully engaged. One boy squirmed, “I forgot we aren’t supposed to make noise in the library.” No, I reassured him, the library isn’t only a place to be quiet. It’s also a place to do things, make things, even make some noise.

But I didn’t really need to make that argument to him. He’d just been cheering for his Blue #0 as it hugged the arena wall, and no one had shushed or scolded him. We were cheering along, for the brushbot he’d made and for the fun he’d had at the library.

This isn’t a terribly complicated program to put together, but it takes time to tinker with the pieces and set up the play. That time multiplies quickly when you need to come up with ten programs and not just one.


That’s when a network of librarians can really pay off. Borrow ideas from others, to get you up to speed, and share ideas that others can use and adapt in new ways you could use, too. SWON has a new website launching July 1st!

Among its new features will be tools to help you share ideas more easily. Special Interest Groups will be able to open their own forums and blogs where SIG members can contribute. You’ll need to set up a profile on the site, first, but profiles are free for everyone. Look for more news about the new SWONLibraries.org, coming soon.


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