Introduction: Hydraulic JudoBots

Picture of Hydraulic JudoBots

Two robots face off and try to throw each other off of a table! It'll make more sense after you watch the video...

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More footage from actual student-built JudoBots:

Updated version from my book Rubber Band Engineer

I call them JudoBots because of the way they seem to throw and grapple with each other during combat.

Although designed for children in grades 4-6, I think just about anyone can have fun with this. Even parents can't resist trying it out!

The bots are assembled from four components built separate from one another: the base, the stand, the arm, and the hydraulic system. The hydraulic system uses plastic syringes as pistons and water as the hydraulic fluid.

Step 1: Materials, Tools, and Design Criteria

Picture of Materials, Tools, and Design Criteria

    Please message me to report broken links. All of these materials are used in my other Instructables for kids, so your purchases can be used across multiple projects.

    JudoBot Criteria

    1. The base of each JudoBot must fit within a 10-inch square. This is to prevent students from building sprawling robots that cannot be flipped.
    2. Material limitation: craft sticks (50), craft cubes (10), cubes with holes (10), syringes (4), adhesive bumpers (10), decorative woodcraft/extra woodcraft (5), everything else within reason.

    Material limitations are in place to promote resourcefulness and to reduce cost. Also, clever students can no longer pile hundreds of sticks onto their bot in order to make it too heavy to move.

    You may choose to use other materials. This is what I use because I need to streamline my materials to fit with the other projects in my program, as well as keep the cost per project low.

    Step 2: The Base

    Picture of The Base

    Click on the pictures to view the information in the text boxes.

    Step 3: The Stand

    Picture of The Stand

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    Step 4: The Arm and the Wedge

    Picture of The Arm and the Wedge

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    Step 5: Assembling the Pieces

    Picture of Assembling the Pieces

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    Step 6: Make a Hydraulic System

    Picture of Make a Hydraulic System

    This part can be a bit tricky for students. Although the process is fairly simple, it isn't easy to commit to memory by watching it done once or twice. You may want to outline these steps on a whiteboard:

    1. Connect tubing to one syringe
    2. Fill completely with water
    3. Point the tip of the syringe up and push on the plunger. This expels all of the air and fills the tubing with water
    4. Refill halfway and set aside
    5. Submerge the tip of the second syringe and repeatedly pump the plunger to expel air. Fill halfway
    6. Connect the syringes and try it out. If the total amount of water in either syringe exceeds the 10ml mark then there is too much water in the system. There should be little to no air bubbles, too.
    7. Glue on a holed cube to the end of one plunger in each set

    For extra fun, use food dye to color the water

    Step 7: Attaching the Pistons

    Picture of Attaching the Pistons

    Click on the pictures to view the information in the text boxes.

    Step 8: Battle Time!!

    The arena consists of two 10" squares spaced apart by 2" - 4" drawn onto a tabletop (depicted in the video). Ideally there should be about 6" between the sides of the squares and the edge of the table.

    Rules of engagement:

    1. JudoBots begin by squarely facing each other with the front of the base touching the edge of the square and the arm completely extended.
    2. On the count of three, fight!
    3. There are three ways to win a fight: flip your opponent, push your opponent off of the table, or if your opponent experiences a hydraulic failure.
    4. A stalemate occurs when the bots are both active but unable to reach one another.
    5. A draw occurs if both bots are either flipped or have fallen off.
    6. Students cannot touch the JudoBot with their body during battle.
    7. Students must strive to control their JudoBot with precision.

    Hydraulic failure most often occurs when the plunger is yanked out of the syringe. Repairs are not as straightforward as filling the lines, so emphasize the importance of operating the JudoBots with precision. If you see a student recklessly pulling on the syringe in the heat of battle, call for a time out. It's better to spend a few seconds reminding your student to slow down than it is to spend a minute or two fixing the line.

    The first time students battle it will look like two poorly programmed machines bumbling into each other. This is normal - it just takes some practice before getting the hang of the controls and basic tactics.

    Step 9: Presenting This Information to Your Class

    I break this project up into two parts: 1. Construction and assembly, and 2. Attaching the hydraulics and battling

    1. Prepare two working JudoBots and an extra hydraulic system before class.
    2. Demonstrate how to operate one JudoBot in front of your class. Tell them right away about the importance of operating the JudoBot with precision, and show them what happens when a piston is yanked on too hard.
    3. Let each student have a chance to operate a JudoBot, though not in combat. This allows the students to experientially grasp what hydraulics are, which is necessary because you will be referring to that concept a lot.
    4. Afterwards, have the students focus on you as you disassemble a JudoBot into it's 4 components: base, stand, arm and hydraulic system. Show students the key features of each part, such as the materials used for the pivot column and how it operates. Do not explain how to create or attach the hydraulic system yet.
    5. Once you feel confident that the students comprehend how to construct each part, allow them to access the materials and begin.
    6. At the beginning of the second part of class, show the students how to create a hydraulic system and outline each step on the board. You may want to show them a second or third time. Demonstrate how to attach each hydraulic system to the JudoBot
    7. Finally, remind your students to operate their bots with precision once again! Never yank unrestrainedly on the controls.
    8. Once the battling begins, continue to allow your students to redesign and build. Oftentimes the very first design includes some flaws that need to be worked out.

    Step 10: Further Thoughts

    Picture of Further Thoughts

    This project is relatively new in my curriculum lineup, so there are lots of unexplored ideas. What design aspects could be improved? How could this be motorized? What new element could make the battles more interesting and decisive? Could this idea be turned into a toy that uses easily interchangeable parts which allow children to customize their bots and battle with their friends? If you try this out, post some photos and share your insight. Or if you don't, let me know what you think of it anyway :) Thanks for reading through this Instructable - now go forth and create an unforgettable experience for the kids in your life with awesome engineering projects!

    Same materials, different project


    jprice39 made it! (author)2016-04-26

    I think this is a great project. I'm following some other STEM teachers in my district and having my 5th graders build them in teams. I just can't seem to find a glue that holds the cubes to the syringes. I've tried wood, tacky, hot, and super. Any ideas?


    LanceMakes (author)jprice392016-04-26

    Wow, that one looks great!

    I use hot glue. Apply plenty of it to the top of the syringe, then repeatedly press the cube onto the glue and lift it off. When the glue is tacky but still hot, press the cube on and keep it there.

    The goal is to smear hot glue all over the surface of the syringe. If you simply glue the cube onto the syringe with just a little glue, it won't bond well to the plastic.

    lachlanh (author)2015-05-05

    lachlanh (author)lachlanh2015-05-05

    i love you bonelli

    lachlanh (author)2015-05-05

    hey bonelli

    lachlanh (author)2015-05-05

    lachlanh (author)lachlanh2015-05-05

    hey bonelli

    KarenT3 (author)2014-10-24

    awesome project we have to battle soon :)

    luzm made it! (author)2014-10-09 Thank you so much. I had a lot of fun doing this

    LanceMakes (author)luzm2014-10-09

    Very cool! Thanks for sharing your awesome design and for including a video!

    chuangt2u (author)2013-11-23
    Very cool.
    Had to make some...

    Will video the battle ... "There can be only one".

    Thanks for the ideas.


    goyo81 (author)2013-07-23

    Fantastic project! My students built these in my physical science class and it was their favorite!

    sparklesareinme567 (author)2013-04-09

    yo you know the whole pressure thing yay that is what works the thing what ever it is you know wat evs

    sparklesareinme567 (author)2013-04-09

    Judobot Tournament! cant wait fir the thrill of the amazing tounament

    sparklesareinme567 (author)2013-04-08

    what types of judobots can be made? like creative ones?

    Digital Teacher (author)2013-03-08

    Idea: create a team event after the battles......a pass the parcel sort of thing.....vid the results. For a team vid

    krouterer (author)2012-09-18

    This is a awesome machine !
    I build mine this afternoon in 45 minutes, and it works great. I showed my students (5/6 class) your video this morning and they where fascinated. This will be our next Project to do. I can't wait to see what the kids will construct!
    Thanks for this good idea!

    LanceMakes (author)krouterer2012-09-19

    Very cool - let me know how it turns out, and maybe post some photos

    chriscook8 (author)2012-09-19

    Hey thanks for the awesome project, we just used it for our kids program at our hackerspace. We had about 25 kids building them and it turned out fantastic!

    LanceMakes (author)chriscook82012-09-19

    Wow, that's great! Thanks for sharing that with me :)))

    Bindi 3000 (author)2012-04-11

    and it is awsome

    micraman (author)2012-04-09

    Hi there! I just wanted to say thanks for the wonderful idea! I adapted the syringe concept and made a catapult which won first prize! Thanks!

    LanceMakes (author)micraman2012-04-09

    Wow, that's awesome! What contest did you win first prize in?

    micraman (author)LanceMakes2012-04-10

    Well it wasn't really a contest we were supposed to build a mechanical toy in Physics.

    anibioman (author)2012-03-26

    these are really really cool i made something similar in technology class but we made claws and used them to pick up ping pong balls in this little game of who can pick up 5 balls faster.

    carladee (author)2012-03-11

    Great project! I recently used this in my high school physics class. The students really enjoyed it. A couple of groups added a third syringe to make the arm lengthen. I even had one student make his robot walk.

    LanceMakes (author)carladee2012-03-11

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing that with me. Do you have any photos or video of your student's designs?

    NightHawkInLight (author)2012-02-26

    Very very cool. It's genius to use syringes as both the cylinders and pump. Simple and functional. Reminds me of building backhoes and dozers with my pneumatic Lego cylinders. If I don't place in the Play contest I hope you're the one that beats me.

    Thanks, but I got the syringe idea from hydraulic robot arms that I found on Youtube and this site.

    biochemtronics (author)2012-02-27

    This is so cool and a great fun way to teach kids so much. I am highly impressed.

    iPD (author)2012-02-10

    Wonderful! :-)

    jetringer51 (author)2012-02-02

    Just built my first one and it's pretty cool. My students are getting excited to try them out.

    LanceMakes (author)jetringer512012-02-02

    That is awesome!! I'd be thrilled if you could post some photos or video of the project in action.

    I am planning an update for this project, but I'd like you to here it first:

    Use masking tape to secure the piston that actuates the pivot, not cable ties. Students requesting for help tends to bottleneck at this step, so using tape is much easier to attach and readjust (and it's just as effective).

    I just finished conducting this project with about 30 4th-5th grade students. Take your time with each step, especially the testing/redesigning phase. Many robots perform less than impressively at first and require some additions and adjustments. Be sure to bring unassembled components for the students to refer to. Have fun!

    I_am_Canadian (author)2012-01-29


    gmtanner (author)2012-01-29

    Great Idea!!!

    How long does the typical build take?

    LanceMakes (author)gmtanner2012-01-29

    Each one takes about 1.5 hours from start to finish

    technologyguy (author)2012-01-27

    A fantastic way to cover the curriculum, involve the students in "doing" and also allow them to have a lot of fun. They soon learn if their design is viable. Proof of concept is the competition. It either wins or loses. Some real- world learning! Wish I'd thought of it!

    stumitch (author)2012-01-24

    VERY well done! my students all want to build it!

    ZeroSight (author)2012-01-20

    this has earned you a subscriber. the idea of challenging young kids to think an build is also great.

    macrumpton (author)2012-01-20

    Very cool. It would be interesting to create a computer interface for these. Maybe a 2 motor setup where one motor selects which plunger to operate and the other actuates the chosen plunger.

    PS I thought Sumo was the sport where the winner gets his opponent to step outside of the ring. Is Judo like that too?

    LanceMakes (author)macrumpton2012-01-20

    Yes, it is more like sumo in some ways, but sumobots are already established as small bots with wheels that try to push each other out of a ring, like this:

    fozzy13 (author)2012-01-19

    This is really cool! Being a judo player, the title of this instantly interested me. I've seen similar things on Youtube before, good job.

    Aron313 (author)2012-01-19

    That would be awesome to play!!!!!!

    Kiteman (author)2012-01-19

    Gosh, that's brilliant!

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