The Many Moving Parts of our Recycled Robotic Ocean Project


Recently, Big-Brained Superheroes introduced our recycled robotic ocean to participants at this year’s Seattle Mini Maker Faire. Here’s the gist of this project:

The Big-Brained Superheroes Club at Yesler Community Center is creating a marine ecosystem out of recyclables, Micro:bit microcontrollers, servos, motors, LEDs, and sensors. Starting with our plastic bag moon jelly and continuing with our sea turtles made from deli pie containers and bubble wrap along with other animals in production, we’re exploring food webs and interspecies connections through our robotic ecosystem. In the process, we’re learning how certain manmade materials, such as plastics, can be both marvelously malleable and deeply damaging.

As a short exercise, we did a quick rundown of how this project combines science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM), and thought you might be interested in the outcome:

Science: In planning the development of their robotic sea creatures, Big Brains analyze the behaviors of aquatic animals in their natural environments so as to incorporate that information into their robot designs.

Technology: To understand how robots function, Big Brains learn about sensors and electric circuits (input), software development (process), and motors, lights, and speakers (output).

Engineering: To develop functioning robotic sea creatures, Big Brains combine their scientific understanding of how these animals move with their technological knowledge. They also learn and deploy relatively complex mechanical engineering concepts, such as how to translate rotational motion to linear motion.

Art: To create believable and relatable sea creatures out of nontraditional materials, Big Brains learn to find their creatures’ defining characteristics and communicate those characteristics through their work.

Math: To create realistic and functioning robotic sea creatures, Big Brains learn about and deploy diverse mathematical concepts. For instance, when assessing the power requirements for their robots, Big Brains develop and reinforce skills in multiplying, dividing, and adding decimals and fractions. And when translating rotational motion into linear motion, Big Brains leverage geometric concepts, such as how to divide a circle into degrees of arc.

There’s a lot more that goes into these types of projects, and one day it would be interesting to traceback all the various inputs, processes, and outputs that make these kinds of things happen. Even relatively small projects, such as those on which we embark in The BBSC, layer in so many sources of inspiration and knowledge and require so many different kinds of resources that accomplishing any small part of them can start to feel like an act of phenomenal wizardry. But the truth is that there are just a bunch of moving parts involved, and we should just put in the time and effort to wrap our brains around as many of them as we can. For Science. (And Technology. And Engineering…)