Scribbling Machines

Scribbling Machines
Scribbling Machines
Some of the many uses of strawberry baskets: structural support for scribbling machines!

A Scribbling Machine is a motorized contraption that moves in unusual ways and leaves a mark to trace its path. It’s made from simple materials and demonstrates the erratic motion created by an offset motor.

We like using harvested motors and switches from discarded toys and electronics and everyday objects like strawberry baskets and milk cartons in our creations. Try changing the length and weight of the eccentric motors, testing various drawing tools, experimenting with materials used for the base, and increasing and decreasing the speed of the motors. You will be amazed at the different motions and patterns you can create.

Scribbling Machines

What are the qualities that we value in this activity?

New use for everyday objects

This is a playful and inventive way of using harvested motors and switches from discarded toys and electronics.

Exploring variables

Each Scribbling Machine is unique, because everyone is investigating different methods for changing the variables: the length and weight of the eccentric motors, methods of drawing, materials used for the base, the speed of the motors, etc.

High tech/Low tech

This exploration is a good example of a low-tech activity that works well on its own, but can be made more complex and interactive utilizing the microcontrollers and sensors.

Scribbling Machines
Scribbling Machines
Scribbling Machines

Make Scribbling Machines @ Home

Here is a list of useful parts if you want to experiment with Scribbling Machines at home. You can also download a free PDF with more ideas.

Scribbling Machines

Essential materials

  • Hobby motor
    A good source is kelvin.com, which sells them with wires already attached so you don't have to solder them on. A range of 1.5 to 3V means they will work equally well with one or two AA batteries.
    These little motors are often used when making models, and are usually found inside of mechanical toys, so another way to get a hold of one is to take apart an old mechanical teddy bear or dancing chicken, and extract the motor you will find inside!
  • Hot-melt glue stick
    Online, amazon.com is your best bet, but any hardware store will carry this as well. Their weight works well in combination with the hobby motors to provide the right amount of motion, and they are pretty easy to stick on the motor's axle. But you can also be creative and use almost anything else as a weight: clothespins, popsicle sticks, bits of clay, etc.
  • Masking tape
    We find that the Scotch brand has good adhesive properties, and you can find them online at Office Depot, or in person in any office supply store or hardware store.

Other useful materials

  • Recyclable containers
  • Clothespins
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Nuts, washers, or other small weights
  • Googly eyes
  • Large sheets of paper

Try It!

We are passionate about sharing our work and developing a community of people interested in these activities, practices, and ideas. The guides below are free to download and use to help you get started with tinkering, whether it's at home, or in your school or educational institution.