Skittering Bacteriophages!

Disclaimer: This was an extremely hasty build. Took about two hours, start to finish, using materials I had lying around. It is definitely not a polished end-product.

A bacteriophage is a virus that feeds off bacteria. They’re also really creepy-looking, like something you’d expect to be skittering around your kitchen floor late at night, looking for scraps.

PhageExterior.svgBy AdenosineOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

So, naturally, I wanted to build one that did exactly that. You know, something like a bacteriophage-shaped bristlebot.

I started out with the basic components for the guts of a bristlebot: a phone vibrator motor, a battery, and a switch.

…crammed them into a glob of low-temperature plastic, and stuck some wire legs on.

…added a collar and sheath (plastic straw and bits of wire), and wrapped the base in tape to make it look a bit less blobby.

The head is made from paper, folded and glued together.

Here’s the whole thing assembled.

So, I turn it on, put it down on the table top and… nothing. Doesn’t move an inch. Just sits there and hums.

The problem? It’s too heavy. OK, fine. Be that way. I strip it down a bit, throwing out anything extraneous, and try again. Finally, it moves (at least a little bit).

So, just for fun, I add a pair of stick-on googly eyes.

The eyes really tie the whole thing together, don’t you think?

Lessons Learned

  • The bot was too heavy. Most of the weight was in the body. Probably should’ve used lighter materials.
  • A stronger motor and bigger batteries might’ve helped.
  • Googly eyes make everything better.


I rebuilt the thing with a heftier motor and battery pack. Really moves around now, but it eats batteries.

Steve DeGroof

Steve is an expat Canadian who now lives in North Carolina. He has worked, at one time or other, as: a TV repairman, a security guard at a children's hospital, and a janitor in a strip club. His current day job is as a computer programmer for a bank, which doesn't involve nearly as much being electrocuted and cleaning up vomit. He has a patent for a "Folding Stereoscopic Computer Display", which sounds a lot more impressive than it really is. He has created various "artworks", including: a baby woolly mammoth with a jetpack (which doesn't actually fly), a Giger counter (not a typo), a clockwork orange (a bowler-hat-wearing, wind-up piece of fruit that plays "Singing in the Rain"), a clock in the shape of Rick Astley that chimes "Never Gonna Give You Up" on the hour (for which he is sincerely sorry). His first book, "Dandelion Seeds", was written largely by accident (it's... complicated).

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