Maker creates remote control Christmas tree ornament robot to spy on Santa and sneaky gift bandits

Raspberry Pi
(Image credit: Element14)

There are many reasons to spy under the Christmas tree this holiday season. Whether you’re monitoring for nosy parties investigating presents early or want to keep an eye out for St. Nick on the big night, this Arduino-powered ornament robot created by Milos with Element 14 is more than ready for the task.

This robot has it all—a clever disguise, a secret hiding spot, and the ability to transform on command. It rests inconspicuously on a Christmas tree branch, awaiting input over WiFi. When triggered, a winch system lowers the ornament to the ground. Wheels can be deployed from the bottom so users can drive around under the tree while a camera provides a real-time video feed.

Creating projects like these from scratch can be tricky because precision is essential in getting all components to work smoothly with each other. To help with the design process, Milos used a free tool called MotionGen. This allows you to animate custom 3D objects to see how the mechanisms will perform together in real life.

Because it’s a spy ornament, we don’t want any obvious wires, so a battery is necessary to power the unit. An Arduino Nicla Vision module is used as the main board which has onboard WiFi, making it ideal for the remote control system. Two motors control the wheels, while a winch motor raises and lowers the ornament, and a central motor drops the wheels.

All of the commands are handled using a simple web interface. A video live stream of the robot can be viewed in the browser along with buttons to operate the winch, lower the wheels, and drive the robot around the bottom of the tree. A closer look at the source code is available in the video shared on YouTube by Element14. For more cool creations from the maker community, check out our list of best Raspberry Pi projects.

Ash Hill
Freelance News and Features Writer

Ash Hill is a Freelance News and Features Writer with a wealth of experience in the hobby electronics, 3D printing and PCs. She manages the Pi projects of the month and much of our daily Raspberry Pi reporting while also finding the best coupons and deals on all tech.