Prototype a Transportation Vehicle/Vessel

We’ve created an activity guide on prototyping transportation vessels! This project was inspired by Rosie Revere, Engineer, written by Andrea Beaty, and illustrated by David Roberts. Rosie Revere, Engineer is a story of a young girl who dreams of becoming an engineer. We can all take a lesson from Rosie to realize that dreams, professions, skills, and passion are gender-neutral. With the help of a wonderful role model in great-great Aunt Rose, Rosie realized that she should celebrate her failures and not hide her inventions! In this story, Rosie engineers a helicopter to make her Great Aunt Rose's dreams come true: to fly. With her inspiration, let's prototype our own transportation vehicle or vessel.

This book is popular in reDiscover Center's Chill Zone and at our school workshops. Read on to take inspiration from Rosie's perseverance and inventions!

STEP 1 - Gather Your Materials

Rosie Revere habitually collects junk to recycle for her inventions. We recommend making a list of what you currently have to work with, gathering different possible materials for this project, then making sketches based on the materials you were able to collect.

After gathering your materials, make a list! Here are the tools and materials for our vehicle inspired by Rosie:


  • Straw
  • Plastic bowl (with cover)
  • Skewer
  • Bottle caps/corks
  • Mylar + Paperboard
  • Pilot (Old Bear Toy)


  • Snips
  • Scissors
  • Hot Glue
  • Screwdriver

What materials will you make with? If you don't have something, what alternatives can you use?

(I found this toy bear that no one plays with anymore and decided he would be the pilot of the vehicle we make today!)

STEP 2 - What is Transportation?

Before we get started, let’s talk about it: What comes to mind when we hear "Transportation"? Transportation is the process of moving something or someone from one place to another. In the diagram to the right, you might interpret that the goal of transportation is to get something from point A to point B. Today, we are prototyping a vehicle or vessel that might be able to accomplish that for us, in this case, to transport our little Pilot Bear.

There are 5 common modes of Transportation:

Railways - By rail, typically built on land. Think "train tracks." 

Roadways - Roads, also land. Involves motor vehicles/automobiles.

Airways - By air. Usually involves winged and rotor bladed vessels (rotor blades are the stuff that spins on helicopters).

Waterways - By water, on the surface or fully submerged. 

Pipelines - Known for transporting water, crude oil (petroleum) and gas. However, this mode of transportation is prominently protested in recent history due to its destructive nature. Efforts are usually led by Native communities who work hard to protect land and nature.

Knowing this information, pick one mode of transportation you want to design for. Then, looking at the materials you have, sketch what your vehicle or vessel might look like.

For this demo, we are making a helicopter that doubles as a submarine, using a takeout soup container as the vessel. Why design a vessel that can only work in one mode when you can pick two?


What is a Prototype?

Prototypes are like sketches of our ideas or projects but in 3D. It's a way to test out ideas when creating a sculpture or invention or solving a problem. By building a prototype, I learn about issues I might not have considered before and create something that can give me guidance on what to build in my next iteration.

Looks-like prototype: A prototype that helps me visualize the form of the completed object but doesn't function.

Works-like prototype: A prototype that test out a mechanism or other system but might not look like the final object.

This prototype will be a looks-like prototype.

STEP 3 - Making a Submarine-Helicopter Prototype

Because of the nature of our chosen materials, our vehicle sketch looks like a helicopter, but I also want to design it so that it works both in air and underwater! So what we're really making is a combination of both. What should we call it? The SubmaCopter? A HeliMarine?

We started by making the rotor blades for the SubmaCopter. Cut the straw in half, put them back together by cutting one of the halves into 2 again, and attach with a little bit of hot glue to form an "x". It'll be easier to attach the two quarter pieces to the half piece when you cut angles into the quarter pieces.


Using a screwdriver, puncture holes through the middle of that x, a bottle cap, and the lid of the soup cup to connect with a skewer. Puncture these holes one by one to handle safely and with care. Think about where the screwdriver will go once it makes its hole! Don't hurt yourself or damage your table!

Seal the positions of the blades and the bottle cap with some hot glue. Then snip off the excess skewer. Leave about 0.5 inch under the lid.

STEP 4 - Decorate the Vessel

We need to furnish the prototype so that our Pilot Bear can drive the SubmaCopter. We used upcycled materials to design a "Control Room" for our pilot and adhered them to the cup using hot glue. It helps to make the furnishings outside of the vessel, then stick them to the cup after.

Don't forget to decorate the exterior!


We’ve successfully created a prototype of a SubmaCopter! How can we make it better? What other modes of transportation can we design for? Give it a try!


Using hot glue can be challenging and require lots of supervision and focus. Visit the Techniques tab in reDiscover Center's Pedagogy Resources to access our Tiny Techniques videos and get tips for working safely and efficiently with tools.

Once you have finished your vehicle prototype, share it with friends and family. If you want to share a picture on social media, make sure to tag @reDiscoverCtr so that we can experiment together!

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