Building Hope With The Mug-O-Matic Modular Toy CNC

This post is about a cool robot project in progress and how you can help make it better!

Back in May I wrote an article mentioning my entry into the 2018 Hackday Prize, and guess what?  It won the first round along with 19 other entries and earned $1000 to take it to the next level! (I’ll need it, R&D is expensive) Looking forward, my project and 99 others will be up for review in the final round in October of this year, exciting stuff!

A bit of background, is a website featuring some of the most amazing DIY inventions on the internet. (You’ve likely heard of it) Some projects that come to mind are a braille cellphone, self assembling robots, a Boston Dynamics style robot dog… Looking through these is usually a humbling experience!

The HackaDay Prize is an annual project based global engineering challenge. The goal is to show the good that technology can do and to build hope for a better future.

For my entry I ask where better to find that hope & inspiration than the next generation of scientists and engineers? My project intends to accomplish that goal by creating a unique and accessible educational tool. One that encourages people to engage in tinkering and making things because those activities are powerful ways to learn and inspire people to pursue STEM careers.

Why care what kids do? I frequently attend Makerfaires to see cool new stuff and I’m always left in a good mood after meeting curious young people with ​technical interests who are clearly destined to make useful contributions to society as an adult. I love meeting smart kids!

And I think it’s important to encourage them to explore STEM careers because it is scientists who solve life’s big problems and inventors who develop technology to raise the tide that floats all boats.  Constructive technology makes life better for everyone and we all benefit from an increased public interest in science and the key scientific virtues of honesty & curiosity. (Considering the current US political climate we could really use some more of that!)

Open source educational toys have their own role to play in sparking that interest. Existing toys like the EggBot, MePed, & the MeArm​ are clever inventions that attract and provide a specific reason for a newbie to get their toes wet and develop new skills. And now alongside them will be the Mug-O-Matic Modular Toy CNC!

(And now for the lead I buried 😀 )

The Mug-O-Matic is a tiny CNC robot that can customize coffee mugs!


This device uses markers to draw anything you want on a coffee mug via manual controls, calculated algorithms, or even g-code. The mug can be washed clean with warm soapy water or the drawing can be made permanent by baking it in the oven.

This robot is entirely open source and offers kids an opportunity & excuse to learn Arduino, the most common and universally applicable language for physical computing. No soldering or bread-boarding is required, controls are all plug-&-play. Robots can be assembled with nothing but a screwdriver and enthusiasm!

What makes this bot special is that it designed to perform meaningful specific work as real robots do, rather than exist solely for novelties sake. That, and the fact that this bot is designed to be as easy and affordable to replicate as possible without sacrificing its ability to do that work.

All components were selected to be commonly available (pending a custom PCB), or otherwise 3D printed from environmentally friendly PLA plastic. All printed parts were designed with care to be compliant of fabrication variances and to be printable without the need for post processing! 3D printing is a great technology for enhancing accessibility because nearly everyone has access to cheap yet highly detailed plastic parts, even if they don’t realize it!

Oh, and it has one more neat trick…! For practical reasons and per the contest subcategory rules this project needed to incorporate modular elements. As it turns out that worked well with the overall goal.

From my research into the highly recommended book Invent to Learn​, kids learn by doing and are most engaged when they are able to independently experiment rather than just being told what to do. Since the components are modular the parts can be rearranged to build lots of different things to facilitate experimentation.

The Mug-O-Matic is actually just one possible configuration from my Tiny_CNC_Collection of unique original hobby robot modules. This collection allows those interested to expand the bot to suit their specific needs and keep replay value high though customization.

For example, another configuration from this set renders the Post-It-Plotter. A tiny CNC that uses the same code to draw on sticky notes!


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Other possibilities include all of the common industrial robot configurations, a 4 legged walking bot, or any other Voltron-style complexity you could desire stacked up to 9* servos high! (*with the use of that custom PCB.)

The collection currently contains over 50 unique 3D printed components, though the hardware design is mostly settled down. This has been the work of many months and yet more development lies ahead.



Want to see and play with it in person? I’ll be sharing a hands-on display at Makerfaire PDX this September! Want to help in some way?

COMING SOON TO CROWDSUPPLY.COM! (Click here to follow!)

While making this robot open source allows anyone to play & contribute, offering complete kits directly for sale will make it even more accessible.

I’d love to build up a bunch of bots & sell kits on my webstore. I’ve been building and selling custom batches of diy kits for a couple years now. All great learning experiences funded out of pocket, usually returning a profit.

Time around I’d like to try a crowdfunded approach. Doing a pre-order batch build costs me more in fees but would allow me to take advantage of price economies of scale without the risk of unsold inventory. And the exposure/feedback would help make this project a success.

But before jumping into a campaign I’d first like to find people interested in supporting the project, even if only in spirit.

If you are excited at the thought of building a real drawing robot kit with your kid on the weekend, with your students in the classroom, or all by yourself, Great! I want to hear from you!

OR if you are an awesome person with good taste in robots who wants to support this project in some small way but you aren’t looking for a new toy at the moment, then you can still be a big help.  Once I start a campaign your pledge to donate a single dollar at the very beginning serves as your endorsement and greatly helps increase the project visibility.

If you found this project interesting please take a second to fill out this survey and then share this article your nerdiest friends, thanks!

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    • Thanks Ryan!! Thats great, never too soon to him started or show him things to inspire the imagination. The mugomatic is targeted toward middle/high school ages but (with much assistance from you) I think a younger kid would enjoy a different configuration of these parts: A joystick controlled turret mounted rubberband launcher. 🙂


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