Introduction: Design a Biomechanical Cyborg

This activity is a perfect blend of science and creativity as students work with their partner(s) to create their version of a cyborg appendage (or device). This part must mimic the workings of a true organic body part, but incorporate some enhancements that would make people want to use it. Encourage students to think outside of the box on this one, their cyborg part need not be practical but it must be awesome!

Definition: A cyborg is a person whose body contains mechanical or electrical devices and whose abilities are greater than the abilities of normal human.

One example of a real life cyborg is the "EyeWriter" project with Tempt1. Video


Found materials: toilet paper and paper towel rolls, scrap paper, discarded boxes, drinking straws, string, fishing line, elastic bands, and whatever else you can find (this could be a scavenger hunt activity)

Tape or hot glue

Computer/laptop/smartphone for research (see step 2)

Additional supplies are listed in the final section "Electrify It!"

Step 1: Choose a Cyborg Model

Students can work in pairs or in small groups depending in the class size. Each pair/group must select one real or fictional cyborg and watch a video.

Cyborg Characters (for reference):

  • DC Comics’ Cyborg Video
  • Marvel Comics’ Nebula & Forge Video
  • Alita Battle Angel Video

Real Life Cyborgs (for reference):

Step 2: Create a Design Concept Map

A design map is a 'riff' on the concept map that depicts suggested relationships between concepts. Students should identify one device used by their cyborg model and research the model/device.

Next, students create their own design maps.

For example, the design map for "EyeWriter" includes a sketch of the original project (center) and related concepts are placed or drawn around it.

Main concepts can 'tagged' with red text, secondary with green and tertiary with yellow. For example:

In red: biomechanics, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, physical computing, eye glasses, Tempt1. In green: biology, head injury, genetics, sports, graffiti, wearable technology, Graffiti Analysis, the eye. In yellow: aerodynamics, markup language, Chicano style and New York style (graffiti).

Step 3: Build the Prototype

Students must quickly fabricate a scale model of their physical cyborg part using found objects and materials based on design concept(s) from their map. They have to use their imaginations.

They should be able to manipulate their prototype or demonstrate how it works.

Step 4: Review the Prototype

After completing their early prototypes, students need to participate in a 'gallery walk' using the questionnaire (file provided below).

In a large class or group, the facilitator should make copies based on the group number... if there are 6 groups then each work area should have 5-6 copies of the questionnaire. Then, write numbers on each design map and on the corresponding questionnaires.

Each pair/group should spend at least 10 minutes with each project until all projects have been reviewed. Groups must leave the completed questionnaires at each work area before moving on the the next project.

When the gallery walk is over each group must return to their work area/project and review the questionnaires. If time allows, the groups can make changed based on the feedback. This is part of the iteration process.

Step 5: Electrify It!

*Note: This step is optional if you have the supplies listed below.

After the gallery walk, and it time allows, students may want to add LED augmentation to the next version of their prototypes.

Try this Adafruit tutorial for cyborg eyewear or follow these instructions:

  • Get a few super bright LEDs, 22AWG solid core hook-up wire, 3xAA battery holder with on/off switch, AA batteries, solder and a soldering iron
  • Make small holes in the prototype where the LEDs will go
  • Solder two wires; one wire for each leg of the LED
  • Solder each end to the battery holder and make sure "+" or (long LED leg) goes to + red; "-" or short LED leg goes to - black.
  • Insert AA batteries
  • Insert LED into holes from the inside and tape into place

More advanced students may want to try adding sensors or actuators that will power their prototypes. Video