At the NYC Toy Fair in February Klutz introduced a new book called "Invasion of the Bristlebots", kicking off a flurry of controversy and accusations. If you remember way back in 2007 the talented folks at Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories (EMSL) released a very popular how-to and video on making a "Bristlebot" – small vibrating motors on toothbrush heads that zoom around like manic creatures. Fast forward a bit more than a year and the Maker community responds with an uproar when Klutz introduces their version of the Bristlebot.
After much feather ruffling and some back-peddling by Klutz, it becomes evident that Pat Murphy, editor of the Bristlebots book, was not the original "inventor" of the project at Klutz. Pat gives no indication who or where the original editor is now, but he maintains his ignorance of EMSL citing competitiveness, and the inward looking culture of publishing. Klutz has agreed to give credit to EMSL in the next edition of the book, and has posted a pseudo acknowledgement of the work that Lenore and Windell put into the first Bristlebot. You can read Pat’s explaination on Klutz’s web site: Klutz and Evil Mad Scientist. EMSL’s version of the exchange, as well as links to many blog posts about it, can be found on their blog at: Bristlebots by Klutz?
I pre-ordered the book as soon as it popped up on Amazon and just received it in the mail yesterday. While I don’t think the book is worth the price I had a few questions and the only way I was going to find answers was to test them first hand.
Unboxing the bristlebots was a little awkward. The clear window on the right is glued down to the back cover of the book, and was difficult to open without ripping it completely off. I’d prefer to keep everything together and this design didn’t help.
I have to admit I was a little disappointed in the bristlebot. There are exactly three steps to the first activity. Snap the two halves together, twist the switch and watch it move. T’s first reaction was: "It is too slow." Even the most anemic home-made bristlebot in my desk drawer left the klutz version in the dust. Once the two halves were snapped together they were difficult to separate. I had to help the kids before they could proceed with the other activities.
The book includes a few cardboard cut-outs for making more interesting bots. T tested a couple of the cardboard legs and they performed better, but more erratic than the bristles. He had just started on making a bot with wire legs when bed-time snuck up on us.
Parting words from my twelve year old daughter were: "It is boring, but I want to take it to school tomorrow." My son, 9 years, responded with: "I think I can make it go faster."
In the end, I recommend getting the parts and building your own. While the Klutz book does provide a fully assembled motor and battery package with switch, making one from scratch is much cheaper, and easy enough for most mechanically inclined kids.
If you aren’t too sure where to get parts, check some of the surplus companies like Goldmine Electronics, and American Science & Surplus for pager motors and batteries. Then all you need are some worn out toothbrushes, wire and tape.
(Image credit: Anton Olsen)