Building your own Robot Petting Zoo

How long does it take?

You can run the Robot Petting Zoo as a two day hackathon or the event can be broken up into smaller work sessions to fit into a class schedule. We have found that high school students without any previous programming experience can build a robotic pet of their own design in about 12 hours (using Scratch and the Hummingbird robotics kit). Those 12 hours include:

  • 1 hour tutorial on cardboard construction
  • 1 hour tutorial on programming and sensors
  • 8 hours of build time
  • 2 hour Robot Petting Zoo to exhibit the finished projects

If the RPZ is being run as a hackathon you will need to add a few more hours for introductions, lunch breaks and wrap up.

The Robot Petting Zoo activity can also be extended by taking more time to dive into programming concepts, sensors and motors, or character design.


To run a robot petting zoo, each student will need:

  • Microcontroller (we use the Hummingbird board because it is compatible with the Scratch programming language)
  • Power supply and USB cable for microcontroller
  • X-Acto knife
  • Steel Ruler
  • Cutting mat
  • Scissors
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Masking tape (we love rolls that are 2" wide)
  • Art Supplies for decoration (paint, colored tape, fabric, googly eyes, etc.)

What will participants learn?

The RPZ is intended as an introductory robotics activity (although there's plenty of room for robot masters to show their skills). A broad set of topics are covered in the construction of a robot pet, including:

  • Programming (input and output, variables, functions, control loops)
  • Electronics (simple circuits, lights, motors, sensors)
  • Physical Prototyping (spatial thinking, structural stability, mechanisms)
  • Design (working on a design team, designing for an audience, creating a character)