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Drawing Bots, Generative Art Machines

June 7, 2013

This lesson is based on a 2013 investigative workshop organized by AIGA at Harlem School for the Arts. Learn more about the workshop:

Generative art refers to art that, in whole or in part, has been created with the use of an autonomous system. In this lesson, students are challenged to invent their own drawing bots, creating machines that can draw and/or paint independently using littleBits modules. Students will develop an understanding of the basics of circuits, motors, and motion while at the same time using creativity and collaboration skills to iterate through the design process and create their own unique solution.


Students will be able to:

  • Collaborate with others to design an autonomous drawing machine

  • Use littleBits modules to explore, experiment, and create unique things

  • Iterate through the design process to build and improve their bots

  • Present their creations to their peers


Collect the attached Drawing Bot Presentation Planner for documentation of student work through the project. Develop criteria to assess student presentations. Discuss the samples in the Drawing Bot Examples attachment with your class to assess understanding of littleBits modules and generative art machines.  


NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • PS2: Motion and stability: Forces and interactions

  • PS3: Energy

  • ETS1: Engineering design

Common Core ELA Standards for Speaking and Listening

  • CCRA.SL1-3: Comprehension and Collaboration
  • CCRA.SL4-6: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

Duration: 2-5 days of 45 minute classes

Lesson Guide

STEP 1 : Introduce the activity

(10 minutes)

Tell students that they will be working in groups to design their own self-drawing robot with littleBits modules and other available materials. If students have used the Bits before, ask them which modules might help them complete this task. Possible answers include the power module, vibration motor, and dc motor. If students do not suggest these on their own, prompt them with leading questions such as, “Which modules will help our bots move?” Explain that each group will have these modules as well as a variety of other modules to make their creations unique.

Next, ask students about the other materials that will be needed. Students will likely volunteer art supplies such as markers, crayons, or paint. They might also suggest various building supplies. 

If not enough littleBits modules are available to give each student a chance to build a robot independently, put students into balanced groups. Try to keep group sizes small to give all students an opportunity to actively participate.

STEP 2 : Ideate

Large img 7116

(10 minutes)

Give students time to brainstorm drawing bot designs. Students will likely have no problem generating a long list of unique ideas, some realistic and others not. Let students run with their imaginations. Later, during the actual building in the prototyping stage, students will discover what is possible and what is not. Encourage students to record their ideas on the attached Drawing Bot Presentation Planner. This will help students document their process as well as prepare to present to their peers later on in the lesson.

Depending on how familiar students are with littleBits, you may want to show an example of a working bot to help students generate their own design ideas. Consider building your own drawing bot ahead of time to share with students. The three designs below were created at the AIGA workshop:

-Spiral Bot:


-C Robot:

STEP 3 : Sketch

Large gaangchoi sketch

(10 minutes)

Once students have a long list of ideas, they should choose one that they want to develop. Have groups sketch their designs. They can include notes such as which littleBits modules, accessories, and supplies they are planning to use as well as how their drawing bot will move and make art.

During this time, it can be helpful to ask guiding questions such as:

- How can drawing bots be activated or turned on? Will they use a button, dimmer, pulse, light sensor, or sound sensor?

- What art materials are best suited for the project?

- What supplies will work best to attach littleBits modules and art supplies to the bots?

Students may make a series of sketches before they settle on a final idea. Students should include their final sketches on the Drawing Bot Presentation Planner.

STEP 4 : Prototype, test, and iterate through the design process

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(30-90 minutes)

Come up with a procedure for distributing the littleBits modules, accessories, and supplies to groups. You may choose to distribute materials to groups or allow groups to send one person at a time to a supply table.

Give the groups time to prototype their design. Students will encounter problems and change their design as they build. Ask groups to document these problems and solutions on the Drawing Bot Presentation Planner.

Pause the class periodically to troubleshoot common problems being encountered around the room as well as share successful building strategies discovered by groups. If you are conducting the lesson over a series of days, it can be helpful to break in the middle of this stage. This gives students time to reflect on what is working and what is not in their design.

STEP 5 : Present

Large img 7199

(30 minutes)

When final drawing bots are complete, have groups share their bots with the class.

Student groups should include:

- Their brainstorming process

- Their sketch(es)

- Problems encountered during the prototyping stage along with their solutions

- Characteristics of their final design

- Sample piece(s) of art created by their bot

In addition, make sure to share your own specific presentation criteria with students ahead of time.

STEP 6 : Share and review

Post your students’ drawing bot art with pictures of the bots in a place for others to see. Leave out some of the drawing bots and littleBits modules for your students to continue to adapt their generative art machines. Use the attached Drawing Bot Examples to review and discuss the functionality of different littleBits modules and generative art machine designs.