This year I decided to make a couple of robot costumes for the kids. My goal was to create a fairly classic boxy robot but I also wanted to add a few elements to make it a little more believable. I was able to add a light display in the chest and a robotic voice. When all is said and done, I was pretty happy with the results. I hope that some of what I came up with is useful to you as you build your own robot costume.
Unfortunately, I didn't document the building of the costumes as I progressed so some of the photos might look more like a tear down.
The costume basically breaks down into the following parts:
- Arms & hands
- Waist & legs
Step 1: The Torso
The first place to start is to find or make a cardboard box for the torso. It needs to be reasonably strong because it will be holding much of the electronics and it will likely get its share of bumping into things. I made 2 of these robots. For one I glued 2 fruit boxes together. These had 2 layers of cardboard so they were pretty strong. The other robot used a box from an Amazon shipment. This one was a single layer of corrugated cardboard so I added a few strips of reinforcement to the inside. Be sure that the corrugation is opposite of the box in order to give it the most strength. The box should be deep enough to account for the child's chest plus a few inches in front for the speakers and then a few inches in the back for some additional electronics. The box should extend down to the child's waist. You will want to cut open what will be the bottom of the box.
Cut a hole in the top of the box large enough for the child's head to fit through it. I recommend trying to keep it fairly circular but as long as you don't make it too much larger than it needs to be, it probably won't bee too noticeable after the head goes on. I just freehanded a hole with a utility knife. I would try to center the hole in the top of the box though.
Now for the arms. I used 6" diameter dryer venting so I cut a 6" hole on each side of the box. Try to be as exact as you can because if you make the hole too large, the arms will fall out easily. If you cut it to be 6", you will need to force the venting into the hole a little which helps to hold things together. For my builds, this tight fit was (mostly) enough to keep the arms in place. The holes should be centered between the front and back of the box and they should be about 1/2" from the top.
Step 2: The Torso: Speakers
I bought some inexpensive battery powered speakers. I cracked them open and soldered on longer wires so that I could put the speakers in the front of the torso and then the amp in the back. Be sure to make the wires long enough to snake around the inside of the box. I used some thin sheets of cardboard to create pockets to hold the speakers to the front of the torso. In the back portion inside the box I created a pocket to hold the amplifier and battery portion of the unit. In the photo you can also see the headphone extension cord attached to the amplifier. In the front of the box I cut rounded holes for where the speakers were mounted.
Step 3: The Torso: Chest Light
I bought a battery powered push light. You could use it as is, but I decided to add a bit more of a light display. I bought some Neopixels and an Arduino from Adafruit. There are some great tutorials over at Adafruit. The Neopixels are RGB LEDs with built in controllers and then the Arduino is used to animate them. Time was limited so I just used the sample code provided in the Adafruit. Attached is a PDF of the template I used to cut holes for the Neopixels.
I chose a location in the front of the torso to place the light. I used some 3M Command Strips to mount the light to the front of the torso. I cut a small square in roughly the center of where the light would be mounted so that I could pull and release the strips later. A little above that I cut a small hole to pass the wire that connects the Arduino to the push light.
I created another cardboard pocket to hold the Arduino and a 9 volt battery inside the torso right behind the light.
Step 4: The Torso: Vents
Years ago I made a robot costume for myself and I remember it being really hot inside. This time around I added a couple of vents in the back of the box. I cut some white contact paper to cover the vents. You can download the SVG file that I cut with my Silhouette Cameo. I then glued a piece of my daughter's old tights to cover the hole on the inside of the box. The SVG file has 4 vents. I used 2 for the torso and 2 for the head.
Instead of painting the box with silver paint, I covered it with sheets of aluminum foil. I tried painting with gray spray paint in the past and I just didn't like the look. For the aluminum, I took a sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper and sprayed it with Krylon Super Quick Grip Spray Adhesive. (I definitely recommend the "Quick Grip" formula.) Once coated with adhesive, I placed it on some aluminum foil. Be aware the there is a dull side to aluminum foil. That is the side that I put the paper on. Once the paper is on the foil, you can move your hand along the paper side to press the foil flat. Be sure to do this on a nice smooth table or mat. Once you have your sheets of paper with aluminum prepared, spray the adhesive on the exposed paper to then attach it to the outside of the cardboard box. I didn't have a real strategy for this part other than trying to overlap each sheet a little. Once the box is covered you can feel around for the holes in the box to expose them through the foil.
Step 5: The Head
I didn't have a box of the right size for the head so I made my own. I cut some panels and then glued them together with Gorilla Glue. I made the box large enough for a child's bicycling helmet. Inside I put a small square of cardboard which I used to attached a couple of strips of Velcro to secure the helmet. By mounting a helmet inside, the kids will be able to easily turn their heads to see.
I used the VoiceMod app on an iPhone to handle real time voice modulation so the kids would sounds like robots when they speak. I created a case out of cardboard so that I could mount the iPhone inside the head. Be sure to avoid blocking the speakers and the headphone jack. I put a piece of Velcro on the outer flap so that I could be sure the device was securely in the case. The large white patches inside the case are craft foam. I was hoping that it would provide a more secure fit and also reduce some added noise from vibrations. I glued the case to the side inside the head instead of directly in front of the kids mouth.
Step 6: The Head: Eyes
For the eyes I used ping pong balls and aluminum foil. I drew a 0.5" circle as a pupil on each eye with a Sharpie. I then took another ping pong ball and cut it into quarters. Using a piece of aluminum foil, I folded up and edge and tucked the edge of one of the ball quarters into it. Just slowly press the foil to the surface of the ball. After 2 "lids" are prepared, place them on the ball at approximately 90 degree angles from each other. Each lid ended up having sort of a tail of aluminum foil so I wrapped them together which held the eyeball together as one unit. I then cut a 35mm hole in the box for each eye. From the inside I applied some Gorilla Glue to hold each eye in place.
Step 7: The Head: Mouth
The mouth ends up being how the kids end up seeing. First I measured the distance from the kids' chin to their eyes. I then had them put the robot head on and measured up from their chin to the place on the box where their eyes would be. I used this to center the hole for the mouth. Attached is the SVG that I used both to cut the hole and to cut some white contact paper for the front. On the inside I put a panel of car window tint film. I was able to pick some up at Walmart. The film I went with allowed for 5% of visible light to pass through it. The kids could see okay at night with a flashlight but I'd suggest using 20% to provide additional visibility.
Step 8: The Head: Vents
In the back of the head I put another pair of vents so that the head didn't get too hot.
Step 9: The Feet
Ok, the picture of the foot was after an evening of trick or treating in drizzling rain. The feet didn't hold up terribly well.
Anyway, I used the kids' sneakers to make sure that the boxes would be big enough to cover them. I ended up cutting some cardboard to make my own boxes. The hole on the top is 6" in diameter for the dryer venting. On the side you can see the decoration I made from contact paper which looks sort of like a screw. Inside I created some brackets out of cardboard to keep the sneakers toward the inside edge of the box.
Step 10: The Arms and Hands
I measured the length of my kids' arms and cut a length of dryer venting with 4" or so of extra length.
For the hands I found some inexpensive gloves at Lowes. I was thinking that I would need to paint a pair of gloves but these were already black and silver so they didn't need much modification. One goal was to have a clean interface between the end of the arm and the glove. I ended up creating a cap to put on the end of the arm with a hole in it for the glove. First I cut 3 circles from cardboard that I'm calling a "glove adapter". I glued the 3 layers together making sure that the corrugation of the cardboard was rotated 90 degrees for each layer in order to make it stronger. Once the glue of the layers is dry then I stuck the newly formed ring into the wrist of the glove. I then cut the "wrist" from cardboard and folded up the tabs. This part gets put into the end of the arm to form the basis of the cap. I put the cardboard into the end of the arm without glue and then folded each tab away from the venting in order to put a drop of Gorilla Glue on it. I then cut the "wrist plate" from cardboard and glued it to the outside of the "wrist" to reinforce it. The "glove adapter" is large enough to prevent the glove from coming out of the arm and the elastic in the wrist of the glove holds it in place.
Once dry, I then glued a piece of white craft foam to it. Leave at least an extra inch of extra foam around the edge. Once that is dry, I cut a 20" strip of craft foam 1.5" wide. Using the Gorilla Glue I attached the strip to the outside end of the arm making sure to keep it flush with the foam panel covering the end of the arm. Trim the strip of foam so that it doesn't overlap itself. Once that is done you can use a sharp blade to trim the excess craft foam from the end of the arm to make it a nice circle.
Step 11: Legs
Ah, the legs/pants. I struggled with this one. First, I cut 2 lengths of venting based on the distance from my kids' waist to their feet. I cut down the side of the venting about 1/3 of the way in order to attach the 2 parts together to create what ended up more or less as pants. Along the end of the slit down the side I covered the edges with Duct Tape both to prevent the venting from tearing and to prevent the metal from poking the kids. I opened the area I split open and then pushed the 2 parts together, using Duct Tape to attach them together. I wasn't happy with this Duct Tape seam but I wasn't sure how to make it look better.
My solution was to create a cover to go around the waist. First I glued some strips of thin cardboard to create a rough shape. I created a rough curve for the area to be cut out for the legs. I sprayed the cardboard with spray adhesive and placed sheets of paper on it. Once the paper was attached, I put a large sheet of white contact paper on top of it. I cut off the excess contact paper and then folded up the sides and then put it around the "pants". At this point I glued the sides together. As you can see from the photos, I left a strip of cardboard sticking up in the back and front of the pants. I cut a small rectangular hole in the front and back. I then hooked the ends of a luggage strap to the pants using these holes.This luggage strap is to be worn over the shoulder in order to keep the pants up.
Step 12: Putting It All Together
All set? Putting on the costume will require some help.
Ok, now put on the pants, putting the luggage strap over your shoulder. Put your feet through the holes in the tops of the feet and then put on your sneakers. Tuck the end of the legs into the hole in the top of the feet. It should be a snug fit.
Now turn on the push light and Arduino. Also, turn on the speakers. Lower the torso down over your head. As the torso reaches the top of the pants, be sure to guide the pants into the underside of the torso box.
Put the gloves into the top of the arm and slide then down until they stick out the end of the cap. Put your arms into the venting with your hand going into the glove. Stick the top of the arm into the arm socket of the torso. Again, it should be a tight fit and you should need to squash the venting a little.
Almost there! Now fire up the VoiceMod app on the iPhone, but it in the case and then attach the audio cable. Put on the head then go collect some candy!
Oh, especially due to the window tinting, be sure to bring a decent flashlight.