Invention Activity: Robotic Gardening

One of the coolest inventions I have seen recently is an adorable little robot named PLANTANIMAL. This autonomous garden-robot prototype was created by Pittsburgh-based inventor/artist/scientist, Jason Bannister. PLANTANIMAL is designed to wheel around its home seeking a warm sunny spot to soak up some rays. This ensures the plants living in PLANTANIMAL get plenty of sunlight.

Plantanimal, a robot gardner

PLANTANIMAL by Jason Bannister. Courtesy of Mechanimal

Inspired by PLANTANIMAL, I decided to create my own robotic garden using items already in my office workshop. After several versions were created, tested, and tweaked, I came up with a robotic garden made from two broken RC cars, miscellaneous craft supplies, and a small Spark!Lab hydroponic garden.

Robot materials

A random sampling of “potential robot treasures” collected from my office/workshop for this project.

My robotic garden, named GROWBOT, finds sunny spots via radio control, attracting a lot of attention at the museum.

GROWBOT, Spark!Lab’s Robotic Garden Prototype

GROWBOT, Spark!Lab’s Robotic Garden Prototype.

Tips for inventing your own robotic garden:  

  1. Take a trip to the local garden center! Decide what types of plants you want to grow. How about a robo-veggie garden, or an herb-bot for your kitchen?
  2. Consider the possibilities! Sketching ideas on paper may help or let your ideas be inspired by the “trash-ures” gathered from around your house.
  3. Get to work! Let the potential robot gardens take shape—build and then tweak your design.
  4. Share! Don’t leave the robotic gardening community waiting! Share a photo or video with us at, or on Facebook.

Invention Activity: Pasta Concept Cars

Inventors often build models or prototypes of their inventions. These prototypes allow inventors to test their ideas, and may show them where improvements are needed. The ongoing cycle of testing, tweaking, and testing again is an important part of the invention process.

Gather some friends or family members, a few rolls of tape, and whatever types of pasta you can find in the pantry and spontaneously engage in the invention process first-hand by building a prototype car! When your prototype is ready, take it for a test drive down a cardboard ramp, set-up an improvised track, or race your cars across the kitchen floor. If your prototype crashes or breaks, rebuild it in a different way to improve the design.

This pasta car was made by our senior historian, Joyce Bedi. Thanks for the photo, Joyce!

By creating a prototype, testing it, possibly failing, and then tweaking it to make it better, you will actively and quickly play through the invention process.

When you are finished with your prototype, email a photo or video to us at, or at