Introduction: How to Build Robot Halloween Costumes.

These costumes were a year in the making for the brainstorming, sketching, and designing followed by a three day cram session to get them built in time for our Halloween party.

We always tend to go overboard for Halloween but this year I think we outdid ourselves. This is my first instructable and our entry into the Halloween costume contest.

A quick disclaimer:
Some of the equipment and resources we used to build these are not readily available for most people on the cheap but I work for a metal shop and they are nice enough to let me use the machines in my spare time. Making these costumes out of metal is a bit overkill and similar results could be had using cardboard or other materials.

Step 1: The Robots Are for Sale!!

I really hate to do this but our family has grown by +1 and I am starting my sophomore year of pursuing a mechanical engineering degree with another two more to go after this.  Sadly, to cover bills and expenses, the robot costumes are up for sale. The men's costume fits me well at 6'1" 190lbs. The women's costume is sized for a 5'3" size 12. I know it's short notice for this years Halloween but if someone acts quick, I can ship quick and maybe you can own contest winning one of a kind most amazing robot costumes ever. Maybe your town has box robot army events or maybe you could start your own army of 2 with these!

A few caveats, the costumes have been stored indoors 100% of the time but the steel components were not painted so they have some surface rust (makes for a nice distressed patina). The current state of the costumes requires tying ones self into the costume (with the help of another) which we used bailing wire for. They are large bulky items so shipping will likely be fairly high. Local pickup is available in the Seattle/Tacoma area or maybe "Greyhound Freight" would be a cheap option. 

Make a reasonable offer on the pair and they can be yours! 

Step 2: Conceptual Sketches & 3D Models

Below are a couple conceptual sketches we did for the costumes along with some screen shots of the 3D model I made in Solidworks. All of the major parts were designed and modeled in 3D to check fit up and function before any cutting was done. We spent the last year sketching ideas, looking at other peoples costumes, and any photos of robots we could find to get inspiration for our own costumes.

After the design work was done in 3D, I exported all of the pieces into 1:1 scale DXF files for laser cutting.

Step 3: Materials Used

I've tried to document all items that went into the costumes but I may be missing a thing or two...

Materials we used:
.032" 5052 Aluminum sheeting @ $0.00 - Used for the body and head pieces. Material remnants laying around at my work.

18GA (.048") cold rolled steel @ $0.00 - Used for the formed angle corner braces & trim pieces (I planned on using 20GA but couldn't find any scrap laying around. The 18GA added a bunch of unnecessary weight and I may re-make those parts from 20 or 22GA for another Halloween.) Material remnants laying around at my work.

.250" 5052 aluminum @ $0.00 - The claws. Material remnants laying around at my work.

(4) Aluminum Mini Round Wall Louvers McMaster part # 2016K4 @ $1.16ea - The ears on the robot heads.

(250+) .125" Aluminum Pop Rivets McMaster part # 97447A310 @ $8.24/250 - I thought this would be enough but bought another pack at Harbor Freight to be safe. We probably used about 275-300 rivets. (I also bought a rivet gun at Harbor Freight but this is a long term tool that isn't just for these costumes so I'm not counting it as part of my budget. You can get a rivet gun for as little as $5.00 but I sprung for a nicer model that would also install riv-nuts.)

(12) Steel Extension Spring McMaster part # 9654K14 @ $7.00/12 pk - These are attached to the claws to spring them open.

(1) Propane gas feed tube from an old BBQ @ $0.00 - This made an excellent antenna for the robot man costume.

(4) Galvanized Ducting 4" diameter X 6.5" length @ approx $3.00 from Lowes - These were used to house the claw hand mechanism.

(1) 25' package of 4" diameter dryer ducting @ approx $17.00 from Lowes - We used less than half the package to make four arms.

(1) Old AMD K6 computer @ $0.00 - Scavenged old dead antiquated computer for accent pieces. Used motherboard, K6 chip, an e-prom chip, heat sink, cooling fan, front control panel (with a turbo button!!!), LEDs, power sockets, miscelaneous plug ins, power wiring bits, and an IDE cable.

(1) changing color LED power button from a CPU case @ $0.00 - My old computer at work had a failing power button. After a computer upgrade, this little gem landed on my desk courtesy of our IT guy. It made a nice addition to the front of the robot girl costume.

(4) Old dead laser focusing lenses @ $0.00 - This is the part that inspired me to build robot costumes. I have looked at these for a number of years and thought they would make the best eyes for a robot. We had a box of lenses that had been phased out and replaced with a new style collecting dust at my work. They add a special touch to the heads.

(4) LED puck lights @ $6.99/4 pk from Fred Meyer - I was looking around the flashlight section for something to light up the robots eyes. I found the LED lights and they looked like the ticket. When I got them home, I found that they fit perfectly inside the lenses. Some free wavy blue plastic sheeting was cut into circles and used inside the robot girl eyes to give them a more friendly look.

(5) feet of .375" diameter split plastic wire housing @ $0.00 - We used this to protect our arms and necks from the sheet metal edge. Sections were also used for accent pieces on the robot backs.

(2) Old broken bike helmets @ approx. $20-30 each when new - We both had helmets that were past their prime for protecting our heads in bike crashes. Some quick work with a hand saw after removing the plastic skin allowed the helmets to fit nicely into the robot heads. These could be considered practically free since they had years of use for their intended purpose. They both would have been trashed eventually since they were cracked.

(1.9) yards of silvery pleated fabric @ $7.00/yard bought last minute at 60% clearance sale of Halloween stuff from Jo-Ann Fabrics - This fabric was the perfect match to the drier ducting but unfortunately this was the last of it. There wasn't quite enough to cover the legs of the robot man. The girl robot is only covered up to the knees where the skirt takes over.

(4) buttons & light covers from old CNC controllers @ $0.00 - These were scavenged from parts bins at my work from antiquated CNC controllers that had been parted out to make more shop space. We used two red light covers for the robot man and a red & green button for the robot woman for accent pieces.

(1) panel mount toggle switch @ approx $3.00 from unknown source - This came in a multi pack of car wiring supplies and had been laying around for years. Time to put it to good use for powering up the lights on the girl robot body.

(1) 4 AAA battery holder @ $1.99 from Radio Shack - Power supply for the girl robot body lights. (this may need to be switched out for a 2 AA battery holder.)

(4) Magnet cabinet door catches @ $1.09/ea. from Lowes - The display model in the store had a very strong magnet but the ones I got home with were pretty weak. These were intended to hold the backs on the costumes which did work for a short time. During a trial run of moving around in the costume, the girl robot back fell off and could have injured my girlfriend if it caught her calf on the way down. Wood floors would also pay the price if the back fell indoors. We aired on the side of caution and drilled holes for wire tying the backs on for our party. We actually bought (8) total but the unopened ones will be returned or used for home projects.

We also bought about $15.00 in miscellaneous nuts, bolts, screws for the claw hands.

All materials for the robot girl skirt were free and included cardboard, nuts, bolts, washers, and a can of silver spray paint.

Other miscellaneous materials include loads of duct tape, 1" dowel rod for handles inside the claw hands, electrical wire, crimp connectors, key chain rings for the claw hand mechanism, some upholstery foam, and maybe some other odds & ends I'm forgetting.

Step 4: Making the Robot Girl Skirt

This part I didn't have time to do so my girlfriend and her dad cut shapes out of cardboard boxes. They bent them into the configuration they wanted. There is a stiffening lip around the top and bottom of the skirt. Then the whole thing was bolted together with #10-24 nuts, bolts, and washers. Fender washers were used around the waist where the highest risk of tearing would be. One seam of the skirt has only one bolt on the front and one at the bottom stiffening lip. The bottom one acts as a locating pin with out being nutted together. The front one allows you to open and close the skirt easily.

After the assembly was done, I painted it with silver spray paint. I used one coat on all surfaces and it looked really good initially. It dried really quick and although it was all silver, you could still see the cardboard through the paint in a couple places. Also, I think the chemicals of the paint soaked into the cardboard leaving the silver particles on the surface. Silver will wear off on your hands while touching it. This will get another coat of paint to see if this helps the problem.

Step 5: Building the Eyes & Heads

For the eyes, the LED puck lights were an almost perfect fit. I wrapped a small strip of duct tape around the perimeter of the light and it made a snug fit inside the lens housing. The lights by them selves would make great eyes for a costume but I was committed to using the lenses.

The eyes were then secured into the face piece with duct tape as shown below. Then I riveted the assembly together using the formed angles and sheet metal pieces I made at my work. This turned out to be harder than I thought as my design didn't leave much room for error on any level. I should have planned for more fudge room where the aluminum sheet would be coming together in the corners. It all worked out in the end though.

Next step was installing the aluminum louver vents for ear pieces. This was also accomplished with duct tape.

Then I ripped the shells of two old bike helmets and used a hand saw to cut them down for each head. My girlfriend then used duct tape and old upholstery foam to secure the helmets in place. The duct tape didn't like to stick to either the helmets or the foam and the helmets worked their way loose over the course of our party. We will need to find a better solution for securing them. Possibly another kind of tape or some epoxy or something.

Step 6: Building the Claw Hands

For the robot claw hands, I used a 4" diameter x 6.5" piece of galvanized ducting to house the assembly. The flaps at one end that would be used for slip fitting and hose clamping on another duct were pounded flat with a mallet. Six of the flaps were folded over completely to provide clearance for the claw mechanism.

The springs were looped through a piece of old coat hanger on one end and it was bent through the two holes on the center of the top plate. I squeezed it flat with some needle nose vice grips and the trimmed off the excess.

Then the claw pivot plates were installed with one rivet each leaving three rivet holes open to secure the plate to the ducting.

I bought #8-32 bolts, nylock nuts, and washers for the pivots but I didn't have any parts with me. I was kind of eyeballing it and they turned out to be a hare big for the holes I had drawn on the parts. I had to drill all of the claw pivot holes up to size along with the holes in the claw pivot plates.

Then I installed the claws into the pivot plates using two washers per claw to take up the extra space.

The spring ends were the perfect size to slide a rivet through so I riveted them into the holes on the ends of the claws.

I couldn't find any string so I used some thin gauge wire as the pull cables for the claws. I tied on the wires and test fitted the claw mechanism into the ducting. Pulling straight down on the wires had the undesired effect of partially actuating the claws.

The mechanism was then match drilled and riveted onto the ducting.

Next thing I tried was riveting plastic wiring guides to the inside of the ducting. I routed the wires through those so when you pulled down on the wires, they were pulling the claws towards the wall of the ducting. This worked pretty good.

I then worked on the pull mechanism. I used clamp on loop end wiring connectors on a key ring big enough for a finger to fit through. I got two of them to work but in trying to secure the third one, I cut through the wire by mistake and was unable to attach it. So two out of the three claws worked. I also looped a rubber band through the key ring. This is to be secured around the dowel rod handle to keep the keyring pulled to where you can reach it.

I cut some coat hanging closet dowel rod down to fit inside the ducting. This is for the handles. I match drilled through the ducting into the dowel rod with an 1/8" bit from both ends and then removed the dowel rod. The holes in the ducting were drilled up a couple sizes to provide clearance for #10 x 1" wood screws. The handle was then screwed into place.

Last step was to wrap the sharp edges in duct tape to protect our hands.

I was short on time and decided to forgo the claw actuating mechanism on the rest of the hands so I could finish the costumes in time for our Halloween party. All of the claws were assembled with springs but only one would open and close. Need to partially disassemble and finish build these.

The video below shows the claw hand working and I tried to show the internals after assembly.

Step 7: Making the Arms

We used the 4" diameter dryer ducting for the arms. After a quick test fit, a length was selected for each of us and I cut them down. First step is slicing through the foil with a knife. The duct is one continuous coil of wire so you will need some wire cutters for this step.

Next, I took the wire cutters and split about 6-7 of the coils to make the ducting open up in our arm pits. The exposed wire strands were double wrapped in duct tape to protect our skin. This didn't end up being enough for me and I was getting stabbed by my costume for a couple hours.

Step 8: Building the Bodies

The sheet metal pieces were deburred and detabbed using hand files and a drywall spreader knife of all things. The drywall tool made quick work of scraping off the burrs on the aluminum sheet parts.

Then the bodies were riveted together using the .125" diameter pop-rivets. While pop-riveting one of the bodies, I managed to smash a slightly oversized part of my stomach in the handles of the riveter. I still have a bruise and a lump there over a week later. Be careful when using tools!

All of the accenting bits & pieces were secured using duct tape, pop-rivets, or screws. Most pieces came from an old computer I tore apart. Some came from old CNC controllers and the changing color LED power switch was from a newer computer case.

I used .375" diameter split plastic wire loom material around the arm and neck openings to protect us from the sheet metal edges. They were cut to size and duct taped at each end. This worked great and the plastic stayed in place. This was also used around the bottom of the robot girls body since it was much shorter and would be rubbing on the cardboard skirt and her clothing/stomach.

The backs were originally going to have piano hinges to open and close but that would have made the costumes almost impossible to get in and out of (unless we were contortionists). I used some magnetic cabinet closers on the girl costume which would hold the back on pretty good. Too much moving around though resulted in the back crashing to the garage floor. Too much risk of personal injury or damage to flooring in houses, businesses, etc... I drilled some additional holes in the backs and we used bailing wire to wire tie ourselves into the costumes. This proved to be a very secure method of holding the backs on but is difficult to do and get out of.

The robot girl costume is wired up and has a functional switch to turn the lights on and off as shown in the video below. I didn't have enough time to wire up the robot man. That will be done before we use the costumes again.

Step 9: The Finished Product

Here are some various pictures of the finished costumes along with a video of the robot girl costume.

DIY Halloween Contest

First Prize in the
DIY Halloween Contest