The Robot Petting Zoo

The Robot Petting Zoo is a beginner friendly hackathon built to engage youth in science and technology. It was designed to be welcoming to everyone. Instead of competing, groups work collaboratively to put on a fun event for the public. Participants learn coding, electronics and physical prototyping by building an interactive robotic pet. The goal of these animatronic animals is to delight the public, which makes art, creativity and humor essential skills in the design process.

The first Robot Petting Zoo was created by the Lawrence Hall of Science in 2015. Since then, teachers and makers from around the United States have hosted a dozen other RPZ events. We want you to join our team of robot zookeepers! On this website you will find all of the tutorials, examples and guides that you need to run your own Robot Petting Zoo. Together, we can engage a new generation in STEM and bring more diversity to the fields of science and technology.

Building your first robot pet

This tutorial will walk you through all the steps needed to build a fearsome angler fish!

The angler build should take about an hour. It will teach you how to:

  • Safely cut cardboard and make cardboard joints
  • Use a servo and a simple mechanisms to make a moving mouth
  • Wire a servo and an LED to a Hummingbird board

If you want to learn more about mechanisms when you are finished, you can try our two bonus activities: adding a tail fin and adding rolling eyes.

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)