Robot Petting Zoo

The Robot Petting Zoo (RPZ) engages middle and high school students in a fun, approachable design challenge. Youth participate in a “makeathon” to create a robotic pet to delight and inspire visitors to the petting zoo. They construct their pets from familiar materials such as cardboard and craft supplies and use robotic components and programming to bring their creations to life.

The RPZ was pioneered at the Lawrence Hall of Science to broaden participation in making and computer science. As an open-ended, creative activity with an authentic audience, the RPZ and makeathon appeal to a broad range of students, hopefully  encouraging more women and underrepresented minorities to explore robotics.

A general outline for an RPZ is included below. You can plan an RPZ for any time frame, but planning for at least 10-15 hours will give students time to create robots that they are proud to show to their community.

Programming Language

Any language supported by Hummingbird


6-8, 9-12

  1. Introduction: Very briefly, introduce participants to the goals of the robot petting zoo. It may be helpful to use videos from this playlist above to show students the types of things that are possible. This is also a good time to show students the Hummingbird components and describe how they can be used to create robots that sense, think, and act.
  2. Learning to Build: Jumping right into a building activity capitalizes on student enthusiasm and enables them to immediately take ownership of the activity. This can also give students a chance to practice their skills in a low-stakes way before beginning work on their final robot. Possibilities for this step include the following:
    • Build a moving mouth and customize it to make a practice pet.

    • Use the Hardware Components Quick Reference to describe the parts of the Hummingbird kit. Have students quickly prototype their planned animal in cardboard, placing pictures of the components where they want them to go.Robot Petting Zoo Components Reference
  3. Programming Exercises: You can use any language with Hummingbird support, but for beginners, we recommend Scratch (on computers or Chromebooks) or BirdBlox (on tablets).
  4. Planning: Have students sketch their animal and create a plan to build and program it. The Makeathon Design Notebook may be helpful. This is also a good time to show students how different mechanisms can be used with the Hummingbird motors; this playlist may be helpful.Robot Petting Zoo Makeathon Design Notebook
  5. Robot Making Time! Give students ample time to build and program their robots. This should be roughly half of the total makeathon time.
  6. Community Display: Open your robot petting zoo to inspire and delight your community! If you want, you can have visitors vote on fun categories like “Cutest Pet,” “Silliest Pet,” etc.