Giant Computer-Controlled Robotic Arm Made of Old Cardboard Boxes




Introduction: Giant Computer-Controlled Robotic Arm Made of Old Cardboard Boxes

About: Stay-at-home dad looking for ways to keep 2-year-old son and himself entertained.
The Cardboard Robot is a HUGE Computer Controlled Robot Arm With A Reach Just Shy of 6 Feet.  It has two configurations:

1. The Claw – Three fingered claw that enables you to pick up stuffed animals and dirty socks from the floor without having to bend down. The ability to save the path of the arm enables users to take the same moving camera shot with precision and repeat-ability.
2. Camera Crane - Has a smart phone camera attachment to take fantastic sweeping and swooping time lapse and video shots.

Step 1: Get the Materials:

1. Lots of C-flute cardboard – large moving boxes, refrigerator boxes, etc
2. Some new and very sharp box cutting knives
3. Glue gun or duct tape
4. String
5. Lazy susan from Ikea (for swivel plate on bottom)
6. 1x4 wood
7. 12x12 inch piece of wood (approximate)
8. 3 NEMA stepper motors
9. Motor controller board
10. 3 inch nuts and bolts
11. x8 6mm M3 machine screws to attach stepper motors

Step 2:

Download the engineering drawings (password is CBRobot) in pdf format
Take to Staples. 
Print out on a black and white plan printer at 1:1 scale on A0 paper.
Use this as a template to cut out the cardboard and wood pieces.   Hint:  use an awl or knitting needle to transfer the drawings to the cardboard.   Place the paper over the cardboard, and punch holes at the corners and intersections.   Use a box cutter knife and a long straight edge to cut the cardboard.   Before you bend the cardboard, score the cardboard with a dull butter knife.

Step 3: Wooden Base

Cut rectangular pieces of wood as per engineering drawings
Align holes of small square with vertical base.   Screw together with 1 5/8 screws.   This creates a stand that is shaped like the letter “L”
Mount turntable with 4 3/4″ screws to the main base FIRST.  If you do not, you will have difficulty attaching the main base to the “L”.
Then connect main base to the “L” using the hole in the main base to access the screws.

Step 4: Assemble Two Cardboard Round Parts of the Robot Arm.

Start with the large semi circles that will act as the main drive for the arm (motors attach to this part via string)
Tips for large semi-circle:
Has 9 tabs
– Distribute 9 tabs evenly along semi-circle before applying glue
– When gluing second semi-circle, make sure all tabs are square to both semi-circles.  Otherwise you will end up with a skewed shape
– In one of the semicircles, cut a hole around the center with a diameter of approximately 20mm.  This will provide clearance for the 1/4″ diameter bolt that will attach this semicircle to the vertical base.

Small semi-circle
– Has 7 tabs
- There are 3 small semi-circles.  Two are slightly smaller (eg 2 mm) than the third.   Apply tabs to the two smaller semi-circles

Step 5: Assemble the Rectangular Arm Sections

Before you fold the arms, create creases with a dull butter knife
There are two ways to fold the arm – always use the orientation that makes the profile rectangular (watch video)
Use 6mm M3 machine screws to attach the large stepper motors to the arm.  You will need 8 screws.

Step 6: End Arm

Assemble end arm as per video.  This section is the furthest away from the base. The claw and camera mount attaches to the end of this arm.

At the end of the arm, add two holes that are approximately 1 inch inside from the end and equidistant from the center creases.

Step 7: Arm Assembly

Now put all the pieces from Step 3 to Step 5 together.
- Use the 2” machine screws and nuts for attaching the main arm and parallel arm to the end arm.
- Use the 2.5” machine screw and nut to attach the Motor 2 arm to the parallel arm (close to central pivot)

Step 8: Claw

Use two 10mm M3 machine screws to mount the small stepper motor to the triangular base. The small stepper motor hole is threaded, so you do not need to use a nut.

Step 9: Smart Phone Camera Mount

Step 10: Motor Control Software

Download the robot software.  Pc version or Mac version.

Step 11: Motor Control Hardware

You have a few options for the motor control hardware:

1.  Make it yourself.  You can download the gerber files from here.   Etch it at home with PCB making solution or send it off to a PC board house to be fabricated.

2.  I have some (supplies limited) – email me at 

3.  You can use any motor controller board that will drive a 12V stepper motor at 600mA.  The Adafruit motor shield that works with Arduino is one example.  There are larger stepper motor controller boards available on ebay as well.  Note: these options will not work with the CBRobot software.  You could modify the CBRobot source code.   Email me at

Step 12: Connecting Motors to Board and Testing

Connect large stepper motors to 4-pin connector in the following order:
Blue – outside pin
Red – inside pin, next to blue
Green – inside pin, next to black
Black – outside pin

Two connectors should be connected directly onto two large stepper motors.
On third stepper motor, use short 4-conductor wire in between connector and motor leads.  We need this extra length so that the motor that drives the Z-axis of the robot can reach the controller board.

Step 13: Connecting Motors 4

Do not press fit the threaded rod to the small stepper motor until instructed to do so in the video.  The threaded rod is very difficult to remove once mounted on the motor.

Suggested connection from MOTOR to cable (small claw motor):
YELLOW <-> yellow
RED <-> red
WHITE <-> green
BLACK <-> black
ORANGE – unused
BROWN — unused

Suggested connection from MOTOR to cable (camera motor):
YELLOW <-> yellow
ORANGE <-> red
BLUE  <-> green
BLACK <-> black
RED (x2) – unused

Step 14: Putting It All Together

Using 1/4″ diameter bolt to go through the large semicircle and vertical base.   The body of the bolt should point inward toward the center Z-axis.
Glue third large stepper motor to the base so that the spindle is approximately 2 mm away from the semi-circle.   Rotate along Z axis to ensure that the robot arm rotates such that the semi-circle does not touch the motor shaft.
The counter-weight at the end of the main arm is important.  Fill a zip loc bag with approximately 2 lbs of sand or small stones and place in the counter-weight.

UP! Contest

First Prize in the
UP! Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Make it Glow Contest

      Make it Glow Contest
    • Clocks Contest

      Clocks Contest
    • Cold Challenge

      Cold Challenge



    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for this great instructable, this is a very good design and looks very capable, could you tell what the drive pins are made of? Hot glue gun sticks? candles? ..


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Great!!! Looking forward to adapting this for my students in my introductory to robotics class at Northwest Indian College.


    9 years ago on Step 14

    This looks fantastic! I want to make it!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    One improvement necessary: Make sure that it drops everything just like a "skill tester".


    9 years ago on Introduction

    First off, this is awesome! Fantastic way to cut down the cost barrier usually involved in something like this.
    Second, did you design the CBRobotConsole program yourself? I would really like to learn how to create a very similar program with my own tweaks, but I'm just a novice programmer and am not sure where to even start. Got any quick tips that might point me in the right direction?