Introduction: Solar Cockroach 2.0

Picture of Solar Cockroach 2.0

It’s been a while since the original Solar Cockroach went extinct due to scarcity of parts, and the Solar Cockroach 2.0 took its place. Since that fateful day, the cockroach has continued to evolve based on user feedback and part availability. The motor has been replaced again, this time featuring an adhesive backing, and paperclips are now used for legs.

This instructable will detail how to put together the Solar Cockroach 2.0, a simple vibrobot made from a 2V solar cell and vibrating motor. This is a simple and fun project, though it does require the use of a soldering iron and hot glue gun. You can easily source your own parts, or check out our kits over at

We also have a non-soldering version of this project, the Solar Bug Kit. The Solar Bugs feature a laser cut wood body and pipe cleaner legs. Solar cells with attached motors and pre-cut leg holes mean you don’t have to worry about hot glue or solder.

Time: 15-30 minutes
Cost: $5-10
Difficulty: Easy

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need


Grab a Kit


1x 2V Solar Cell
1x Vibrating Motor
2x Big Paper Clip
2x Googly Eyes
6 inches of Magnet Wire

Soldering Iron
Hot Glue Gun
Wire Cutters
Helping Hand - (optional... but handy)

Sourcing Your Own Parts

We learned a few lessons as we were sourcing parts for our solar cockroach kits, which we are happy to share. This section will be most useful for those sourcing their own parts, if you are building from a kit, feel free to skip ahead.

Where to buy:

You can find these solar panels and motors all over the web. eBay has quite a few people selling them in bulk. You can use any cell you want, but the big factor is the size. The 2V rectangular cells work well in this case, though a small round cell would be fun to turn into a Solar Ladybug.

Motors can be bought in various sizes or shapes. Alternately, you can steal the vibrating motor out of an old cell phone or pager. This will save you $2.

You can also find individual parts for these kits on, in case you're only missing one or two pieces. Feel free to contact us about discounts for educators or large orders.

What to look for

Solar Cells:

As mentioned on the parts list, you can use any sort of solar cell for this project, however, there are some things to keep in mind. While you can find heaps of different types of solar cells on the internet these days, not every cell is equal.

As we're using small motors, we're going to need a certain amount of power. I've found that most of the little vibrating motors you buy online need at least 1.5V and 30mA to trigger. We want our solar panel to go above and beyond that threshold. When solar panels are rated, they're given a rating at their max power level, which usually means noon on a sunny day. As these conditions don't exist all the time, we have to expect that our solar cell will usually be operating at a lower power level than what it's rated for.

The second thing to keep in mind is the size of the solar cell in relation to your motor. The bigger and heavier the cell, the stronger the motor you'll need to get it moving, the stronger the motor, the more power it will require... And on and on.

The key is to find a solar cell that is both small and has a good kick behind it. Salvaging solar cells from old garden lights has worked for us in the past, though often times they lack the current to get the motor started. The ones we prefer to use are some long and skinny 2V 50mA solar cells. They're cheap and easy to find online from quite a few places.


Small vibrating motors can be found everywhere, and you probably have several in your house right now, if not in your pocket. Common electronics such as cell phones, pagers, video game controllers, and electric toothbrushes all make use of these types of motor. You can easily scavenge broken or obsolete items for their motors, though you will find a large range of sizes. As with the solar panels, you have to hit the sweet spot between too large to turn on, and too small to move your roach.

Questions to ask your motor before you buy it:

1) Do you have soldering points?

You want a motor (and panel) either with wires, or large enough tabs to easily solder to. You don’t want to wind up with a motor you can’t connect to your panel.

2) Do you meet my power needs?

You need a motor that is rated to work at a very low voltage, aim for 1.5V. Most will do this just fine but we've occasionally run into some that need 2.5V or even 3V. Also remember that you need a DC motor, not AC.

3) Are you strong enough?

You can buy some really small vibrating motors, but they're not going to be strong enough move your roach. Usually the ones that are 15mm - 20mm long will do the trick.

4) Are you too expensive?

If you're paying more than $3 for a motor you're paying too much, especially when you figure in that shipping is never free. Just buy one off one of the websites above when you're buying some other hobby items. Find a couple of little projects on instructables and make an order. It saves on shipping.

Step 2: Video Instructions

In case you're a visual person, or honest with yourself and just too lazy to read, here are video instructions for the Solar Cockroach!

Step 3: Soldering

Picture of Soldering

Remember to heat up your soldering iron and hot glue gun so they are ready to use when you need them!

Solder your motor to the solar panel

Some solar panels have multiple leads. You can test your motor placement by holding the panel in the sun and pressing the wires to different combinations of leads until you feel movement. Alternately, use a multimeter to test for resistance between leads. You want to use two leads that appear to be an open circuit, not two leads that appear to be a short circuit.

Lay your solar cell down, and align the wires from the motor with the leads on the solar cell. It does not matter which wire goes to which lead, the motor will spin either clockwise or counterclockwise depending on how you wire it. If you have one of our kits, your motor comes with an adhesive backing on one side. Make sure your wires reach the contacts before sticking down the motor.

Place your soldering iron tip so it is touching both the wire and the solder point, while keeping your solder on the other side. Touch the end of the solder to the terminal, and it will melt to make the connection. It can be helpful to arch your wires before soldering to prevent them from springing away once the soldering iron is removed, and before the solder has a chance to harden. Repeat this step for the other wire and terminal.

Once cool, turn your solar cell over just to make sure everything is well connected. If you like, you can go outside and test it out. If your motor doesn’t vibrate when the solar panel is exposed to bright sunlight, you may have a poor connection, or you may have soldered to the wrong terminals.

Step 4: Making the Legs

Picture of Making the Legs

Use your wire cutters to cut two paperclips in half, which should leave you four pieces with a U-bend in the middle, and a hook at one end. Cut off these hooks to even out each piece. Each U-shaped paperclip half will become one pair of legs, with one leftover (unless you want to make a spider instead!).

Tip: Bending the legs outward before gluing makes it easier to use the glue gun on the third pair.

This is a good time to get out your helping hand, if you have one, or con a friend into holding very still. Put a drop of hot glue on the bottom of the solar panel and stick the U-bend of two pairs of legs into it. You have to hold the legs while the glue cools and hardens, but after 30 seconds or so you will be able to let go. Watch for the glue to go from clear to cloudy for a clue that it’s almost done. Place a third pair of legs on top of the first glue blob, and add another drop of hot glue on top to keep them in place.

How long your legs are, what angle they are at, and where you use the long and short pieces are all up to you! Make several styles and see what works best.

Step 5: Dress Up Your Cockroach

Picture of Dress Up Your Cockroach

Right now you technically have a functioning solar cockroach. Outside in the sun he will vibrate and dance around like all the other little cockroaches. But he’s missing some important parts!

Attach the Antenna

Fold your lightweight wire in half and place it in the front middle of your solar cell. Apply hot glue and allow it to cool and harden before moving your cockroach.

Attach your Googly Eyes

Place a drop of glue onto the front of your roach, next to the antenna, then carefully use a googly eye to smear the glue and move it to the front. This way the eye faces forward, but is securely attached to the panel. Repeat this step with the second eye, and you’re done!

Step 6: Enjoy!

Picture of Enjoy!

While googly eyes and antenna are not required for your roach to function, it sure looks a lot cuter now! Feel free to give it some more flair with bits of paper, spare electronics, or whatever you have laying around. Here at the shop we’ve made some with laser cut acrylic heads, LED eyes, and diode legs, which look pretty cool. Keep an eye out for our Solar Cockroach 2.0 Deluxe kits featuring these upgrades!

We hope the guide and video are helpful for those of you looking to put together our kit, or to assemble a Solar Cockroach from scratch. This project is super fun to make, and a great “first robot” project for kids.

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zhy0224 (author)2016-05-21


RonC48 (author)2016-02-20


HeloisaC (author)2015-10-23

do they work in regular house light?

YouthLibrarian (author)2015-07-25

FYI: Link in the supply list leads to vibrating motors with wires, not tabs.

Lrobot8 made it! (author)2015-01-23

I made the robot! It was fun. It's really cute. Thanks Josh!!!

BrownDogGadgets (author)Lrobot82015-03-20

Looking really good there!

MohammedP3 (author)2015-03-15

coooool ☺ ????

JAYK0 (author)2013-09-21

You can also get a 1.5v motor from a hex bug

Ploopy (author)2013-05-09


arthur15400 (author)2013-03-05

Sorry, bad reading ... Is the resistor really important ? I think you can use a paper clip to make the legs.

arthur15400 (author)2013-03-05

Hello, I was wondering what kind of resistor is it ? is it a strong one ? How many ohm ?

zaherdirkey (author)2013-03-01

I Built it (Battery version)

cesar harada (author)2012-08-03
hey I love the detail and the quality of the pictures of this instructable! Well done and very inspirational. I just made my little version of a vibrating robot here :) I hope you'll enjoy it !

Cool beans! That looks like insane fun!

Husham Samir (author)2012-06-17

So Cute!!!

papertiger07 (author)2012-05-14

What's the motor for?

It makes the roach vibrate....

jessielynntaylor (author)2012-03-20

Just so you know roaches have 6 legs, as do all insects. Regardless these are really cute. I want to make one to bug my mom.

hrodriguez7 (author)2011-11-09

not to be mean or anything, but resistors are kinda expensive.
to cut off the wire of the thing just to get the wire is something I woudn't do

I guess it all verries from person to person.

They cost 1 cent each when you buy 100 resistors at a time. Buy them off eBay, not Radio Shack.

yeah,(no offense, Radioshack), I relized Radioshack isn't exactly the best place to buy matireal.

I once built a beatlebot and bought stuff at Radioshack and the thing ended up costing $34.00!

Exactly. Never buy from Radio shack. Just find a few projects you want to try and go order the parts off an online place. The $5 in shipping is nothing compared the the massive amount of money you'll save from not buying from Radio Shack.

(That being said there are a couple of nice items they make that I do buy from them at a high price, but only because no one else has them.

hrodriguez7 (author)2011-11-09

(you must be going insane now)
how much do "Helping hands" cost?

$5-10 most places. Or you could build your own. There are many instructables that show how.

Thanks for tolerating my comments

tomgriffin42 (author)2011-11-20

I like this idea for my first bot project. But I can't seem to find the blue-cased motor that you recommend. Are there any others that fill the bill? Or can you tell me how to identify the desired motor if I try to cannibalize a cell phone or such instrument? Thanks.

Those blue motors are no longer sold. The ones I use work just fine as well, most any vibrating motors will. I have them on my website.

Just take apart an old (broken) cell phone and you can't miss the motor.

hrodriguez7 (author)2011-11-09

( i hope you're not annoyed with all my comments)
I still dont understand why you can't use the motars that already have wires

The wired motors will not work BECAUSE this project needs stiff wires, whereas wired motors have floppy wires. The vibrations would not travel through the floppy wire. You could, however, just use regular solid core wire when soldering.

hrodriguez7 (author)2011-11-09

in the kits that you guys sell, do you pack inthe kinda motars that your using,
or the fancy blue ones.

xenobiologista (author)2011-10-21

Any idea if these blinky solar keychains produce enough juice? I see them sold quite cheaply at retail or given out free as promotional logo items.

No idea. I'm going to venture to guess no.

xenobiologista (author)2011-10-21

First thought: the Orang Asli kids will like this! My friends and I are visiting (every few months or so) some rural indigenous people's communities that aren't connected to the grid. Their school's only power source is solar panels so we have been trying to teach them about solar. This might be a fun toy for a hands-on workshop to show them how electricity works and basic assembly techniques.

EngineeringShock (author)2011-10-17

Awesome job, Josh!

batonas (author)2011-10-17

nice little robot I gues I could build it in 5min but it would be more fun if cockroach would go into dark (like thay usualy do), that would be two morors to photosensors and some forward directing bristle legs, I gues that would be the 3.0 version.

BrownDogGadgets (author)batonas2011-10-17

Just find a little 1.5V rechargeable battery and wire it in. You can do this, but it does greatly increase the difficulty of the project and takes away from the "newbie" nature of it.

Robot Lover (author)2011-10-16

I like the simplicity of this project! It's so easy that it could be built by a 1st grader while still being a satisfying project for an adult! love it!

About This Instructable




Bio: I used to teach middle school science, but now I run my own online educational science website. I spend my days designing new projects for ... More »
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