Engineering, Robot Arm Exercise

By Patrick Ryan on Jun 11, 2015

This activity was done with an afterschool group of elementary school students in the public schools.  They were given a scenario and asked to solve it.

The Scenario:

Scientists on earth believe that they have discovered an element on the surface of Mars that may be the key to creating cures for diseases such as HIV and cancer.  They are preparing to launch an un-manned robot from the international space station to land on the planet and collect samples of this newly discovered element, but they only have a limited time to do so.  The only problem is that mechanical arm that the robot had been equipped with has begun to malfunction before the launch.  Now the scientists on the space station must work as a team to create a new mechanical arm with only the materials available to them before launch time.  The arm must be made only from materials provided for them and must be capable of grasping objects approximately the size and shape of a soda can or bottle.


  • 3" wide and approx. 22" long strips of cardboard-- 5 or so
  • Binder clips (different sizes)-- 8 or more
  • Beads-- @10
  • Clothespins-- 6
  • Craft sticks--10-15
  • Fishing line-- 3-4 feet
  • Hangers-- 1 or 2
  • Paper clips (diff. Sizes)-- 10-15
  • Pencils-- 3-4
  • Rubber bands (different sizes)--15
  • Tape-- clear and masking (par)
  • Twine-- 3-4 feet
  • Various size scraps of cardboard--10 assorted