Weirdest parts on a robot (And the stories behind their use)

Over my teams four robots that have been built we have used some quite unique parts that worked quite well for us.

  • Rubber LEGO tape (2019) (commercial purpose to stick to tables and wall for LEGO to be stuck to) was used as the contact point between the hatch panel and the fingers of the intake. Why it was there someone stuck it there and it worked well. It was brought to the team as a tread replacement in 2018 since we wore our wheels flat (was not used wheels were left balding)

  • The plunger (2019) (original use unclogging clogged toilets) I refer to it as the plunger as it got quite the bit of recognition at two of our events last year having the same one donated to use by another team (4976) at provincials. Brought in to the fold after it was selected what style of mechanism we were going for and the importance of the flexibility and room for error in the intake was key so instead of designing and making a light weight shock system to go at the end of a painters pole. A plunger was brought in the next day and had the range we were looking for and it went on from there

  • Crazy carpet (2020) (a long sheet of plastic that has two handles in it that is used for sliding down snow covered hills) having a low “everybot” styled robot it was brought up that spending 80 dollar on the top dome piece was not going to be frugal on our part and we are concerned about wear and tear on the original top piece banging into our climber (was redesigned and was wider than everybody’s footprint) so it would be needed to withstand impacts. Enter the idea table the 5 dollars (I believe not even needed to be on the BOM) the crazy carpet was replaced riveted to the proper locations and worked very well. (Was also bright lime green so that was a plus. )

What else have you seen that has been weird that has made it mark known on your robots?


We have had many ‘interesting’ parts on our robots, but every year without fail, we use medical tape (used for the animals at the farm when they broke a bone). It has great friction and works very well on intake mechanisms.

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For a few years I’ve preached the gospel of Sam’s Club cutting boards, which brought back memories of GUS using similar ones to make parts over a decade prior. They’re $9 for a 15"x20", just-under-1/2"-thick piece of very durable polyethylene plastic that cuts like wood. You’d pay double at McMaster for a similarly-sized piece made to tighter tolerances.

In 2018, we used them as cube intakes arm plates…then when our cart’s caster pulled through the mount at Smoky, we bolted through another one as a rescue.

In 2019, it became our hatch grabber. (I don’t know why I don’t have a picture of it mounted properly, but it was originally mounted to the wrong bar.)

In 2020, we made a bootleg GreyT shooter out of them while prototyping. Our friends on 2815 then took some and cut them to the original drawings on their Xcarve for both of us to test with. While our design paths diverged in the end (we decided to dump low), the final 2815 machine not only had a cutting board shooter hood but also cutting board intake and conveyor plates.

Best of all, it’s only about ten minutes door-to-door from our shop to a Sam’s Club so we never have to keep a big stock.


The “weird part selection” story that goes down in history in our team.

  1. Someone decided that we needed extra guards on the robot to protect it as we navigated obstacles (particularly under things):

Fair requirement.

Someone decides to make them out of wood. ~insert comments about WOOD BAD here~

Someone says “well, at least paint it”.

So it got painted.

To look like older wood.

Well, it ended up going well with the theme, so we kept it.

But, whenever someone has an off the wall idea, it always gets compared to “that time time we painted wood to look like wood.”


My favorite so far has been Hotbotz (2640) and their 2019 robot. It’s hatch mechanism consisted of two scrub brush heads and a toilet seat. It also had three toilet brushes and another toilet seat as parts of the cargo mechanism. The whole thing was named, appropriately, The Royal Flush.


Kit of Parts tote on our 2010 robot rookie year. We needed something to protect the electronics and hadn’t heard of polycarb yet (not that we had the budget to buy any).



We covered our flywheels in flex seal this year after we had a failed (and slightly scary) attempt with urethane. The flex seal has actual had some pretty good results and had the season continued we probably would have used it at competitions.

We also used recycled polycarb from last year’s cargo ship to make fins that prevent balls from coming out of our hopper

Edit: we also used a shopping cart for our week 0 robot Carl


A trashcan, that actually was surprisingly effective


Our team specializes in weird items in our robot

2017(Offseason): We had brush like part that was made from a part of broom to slow down and stop the gear from falling down the slide. We also drew a face around it

2018: We had 2 dog leashes (buttom of the bot, covered in ductape) that pulled the climb rope (in blue) so it wont get tangled when we move the elevator up and down

2019: We had surgical syringes pulled by pneumatic piston to create vacuum (more like suction) that held the hatch panel. Worked extremely well.
Side image
Front image
2020: Our cannon wheel, the one that shoots the power cells was a blue V shaped wheel that is used to sort Avokados on a conveyor belt. We ended up replacing it with a 4 inch HiGrip wheel as it couln’t really handle the speeds that we needed.

Can’t wait for next year!


And in our last year fsae car the brake fluid reservoirs were just some small hoses that were laying around in the shop with bolts on top


We almost used that brown school paper towel as linear slides for a pvc cascading elevator.

They worked surprisingly well

There was a robot on a team that shall remain anonymous that came out to a match with their mascot head duct-taped to it. Unfortunately it hadn’t been reinspected so they had to pull it off before the match …


The pulley on our practice bot’s turret looks familiar:

(It’s admittedly not that weird, but @Billfred’s routing-things-into-robot-parts post reminded me.)


It’s a pity the shooter didn’t make the cut.

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2005: Toilet flush ball (or that’s what I was told at one point) as a tetra manipulator for the first regional

2017: Floor mats stolen from the mill as the flywheel hood backing. They literally still had metal shavings embedded in them.

Lots of weird intake/gripper materials over the years, and lots of PVC and wood most people didn’t notice.


In 2017, our robot was designed to act as a continuation of the slope of the human player station. On our first tests, we realized we never accounted for the bumpers, so we needed a way for the gears to bridge the gap the bumpers caused. The solution, a flap. We put a flap of lexan on a shoulder bolt and used to surgical tubing to deploy it. Since it has to be in the frame but come out, we made a little metal stick out and wedge a slide latch door lock underneath it.

After autonomous, the cylinder for the shooters hood would fire, pulling the pin and releasing the gear flap. In the video you can see it deploy once the cylinder gets retracted. If you pause, you can even see the latch and metal tab it got wedged under.


Well it was added later in the season, but after our first Semi-Finals match in Tesla, 2017, we managed to get a gear stuck in our hopper. Since we determined that it can not happen again, and lost us the match, I believe 2084 remembered they had a mattress sale sign in their pit from a fundraiser they did, and gave it to us to chop up and cover the top. In the end, we ran through the rest of Tesla and Einsteins with the mattress sign. I think the sign is still sitting on the shelf somewhere. We made a better cover for IRI and WMRI.


2012: Used the cap from a bottle of Bengal roach spray (Guaranteed to Work) to lift the basketball into the flywheel shooter. Unfortunately, we swapped it for a swiss cheesed PVC end cap shortly before bag.
2014: on prototype robot, “Woody”, we used a bungee cord and zip ties in lieu of energy chain.
2015, made a “string potentiometer” from a Lowe’s tape measure, a 10-turn potentiometer, and a radio knob to interface the two.
2016, used part of a Rubbermaid garbage can (grey version of the RC from 2015) as a protective layer for the drivetrain gearboxes. One of the prototype intakes featured most of a 5 gallon bucket.
2017, used surplus coroplast signs as our initial prototype gear glide. It worked better (slicker) than any other plastic we tried, so we went with coroplast on the competition robot. We also used a magnet and metal plate to hold the end of that gear slide inside the frame perimeter at the start of the match.

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Also a trash can. (Or rather a “recycled” blow-molded polyethylene hopper, as we marketed it to judges) :slight_smile:


First one that comes to mind is 997’s totestack.

The best explanation I can gather is that it was an attempt at blocking 2471’s shots using totes duct taped together, but it took no longer than 40 seconds to get disabled, I think due to 2471 accidentally cutting the tape at about 116 seconds.