Malfunctioning Robot

Introduction: Malfunctioning Robot

Our eight-year-old son wanted to be a malfunctioning robot for Halloween, so we created a costume that includes lights, robot music and looks a bit menacing. The video gives you a tour of the finished project.


We found many of the components to make this costume from a surplus store (Axeman in Minneapolis - AWESOME place). If you would like to make a costume like this, visit places like Axeman, flea markets, old hardware stores, etcetera, to find cool roboty items. You will need a roll, or three, of Gorilla tape, glues that work on plastic, silver spray paint (we used a lighter and darker color so that everything wasn't exactly the same), work gloves, safety glasses and any other safety equipment needed for the products you use.


We found a nice, symmetrical plastic bucket that fit our son's head with a few inches to spare. Additional components:
• Eyes: Trailer lights
• Mouth: Dryer vent end piece
• Sides: 2 milk bottle caps from McDonald's kid's meals and 2 water bottle covers (surplus store)
• Top: Battery-operated toy emergency light and a random metal piece that is spiraled on one end (surplus store)
• Back: On/off switch (surplus store)
• Sheets of craft foam

We determined where everything should go on the helmet. Our son would be looking through the mouth, so we had to place the components with that in mind. We taped sheets of foam around on the inside of the bucket, except the face side.We cut slightly less than half of the vent off and cut a hole in the bucket that would hold the vent tightly. The flat side of the vent is down to give the robot a frown. We spray painted the bucket, without the mouth in it, with the lighter silver paint and sprayed the vent and the side pieces with the darker silver. Once they were dry, we slid the vent into the bucket so that half of it stuck out. Hot glue holds it in. We also hot glued the side pieces and the antennae thingy. The trailer lights were attached and wired to a battery pack. Since the battery pack holds four D batteries, it is really heavy, so the battery pack was attached inside the body of the costume with quick-connect wires that run from inside the back of the helmet. the on/off switch was installed on the back of the helmet. The emergency light was attached with Velcro so that it can be taken off to change the batteries. We added foam layers to make it comfortable, keep our son's nose from hitting the vent and make the bucket move with his head.


Here, we found a very large storage bin that had a nice, flat cover. We added the following:
• Giant truck bolt covers (surplus store)
• Old stove dials, thermostats and other gauges (surplus store)
• Sound-activated light up shirt
• Plexiglass for frames
• Surgical tubing (surplus store)
• Baby wipes container
• Dishwasher baskets used for baby bottle parts
• Flashing bulb key rings (surplus store)
• A little spinning motor, pulley, O-ring and a pull-down switch (surplus store)
• Lenticular sticky-back vinyl with circuitry print
• iPod Nano and a small, battery-operated speaker
• An old circuit board (surplus store)
• LED flat head book lights

The cover of the bin is the front of the body. With it standing vertically, we cut a large hole on the top for our son's head to go through (towards the back, since we knew we would need extra room on the inside towards the front for components and the hidden candy bag). Arm holes were cut into each side. We taped the cover on temporarily and then cut the whole bottom of the body off, plus a curved piece off the cover to allow for leg movement and sitting. The cover was then glued and taped permanently on the inside of the body and the temporary tape taken off. I taped foam on the inside of the top right up to the head hole. With my son holding his arms in the air, we could now slip the body down over his head while he put his arm through the arm holes. After he took it off, we spray painted it with the lighter silver paint.

Now the fun part! We figured out where everything was going to go and traced components lightly on the body with a pencil. I hot glued the stove knobs to the body. We cut holes for the gauges, slipped and screwed them in. The gauges are not attached to anything, so they were taken apart earlier and the needles were fixed to look like they are functioning. The battery compartment for the eyes was attached on the inside of the body toward the top of the back. The quick release wiring was left long enough to connect from the helmet and allow the head to move side-to-side.

For the digital-look panel, I got a sound-activated light-up t-shirt. There are several styles available through Amazon. The 'system failure' one fashioned after The Matrix movie was perfect. These shirts have a panel sewn into the front and a pocket on the inside that holds the battery compartment with an on/off switch. We cut a hole in the robot body just a little smaller than the panel on the shirt. I took a length of surgical tubing (it is about a half an inch in diameter with very thick walls) and split it from top to bottom going through just one side. I slipped the tubing over the lip of the hole to give it a finished edge. You will see that I used this same technique on many areas of the robot, securing with glue inside the tubing where necessary. I cut a piece of Plexi a little bit larger than the hole, placed it against the hole on the inside of the body and taped its edges to the body. I folded the shirt, put in on the inside so that I could see the panel from the outside, and taped it in place. I made sure the battery compartment was accessible.

The candy receptacle is an idea I got from another person's costume. It is very clever. I got a small baby wipes container, one with a tab you push and a flap in the top pops open. The whole cover is a little larger than the base. I trimmed along the edge of the cover so that the edges were straight, cut out the inside under the flap to make a bigger opening and cut the bottom off about an inch under where the cover attaches to it. We spray painted the box with the darker spray paint and the tab (button) red. I made a bag that would fit the circumference of the now open box bottom, using Velcro to attach. When it is done, it will hang down inside the costume to receive candy. We cut a hole in the body to snugly fit the box being pushed in so that the cover butted up to the outside of the body. The box was positioned in the hole so that the button was towards the top and glued on along the seam from the inside of the body. I printed, laminated and attached a sign to the flap that has an arrow pointing up and the words 'CANDY UPLOAD'.

For the gutty-works, I used the top part of a dishwasher basket (it was ideal - a shallow rectangle box made out of a plastic grids). I lined the inside with lenticular sticky-back vinyl paper. Holes were cut just large enough for the back ends of the gauge and three blinky key chain lights. The items were pushed through and secured on the outside of the basket. The small motor, pulley and O-ring were mounted to the inside of the basket. It is wired to a pull down switch mounted on an outside side of the body and is run by batteries mounted in a open spot on the inside of the body. When the switch is thrown, the pulley spins. The blinky lights are turned on by push buttons on the ends that stick through the basket. I made a small cage out of another piece of the dishwasher basket and attached it to go around the back ends of the blinky lights, to prevent them from being turned on and off by the wearer's belly. We cut a piece of Plexi a little larger than the gutty-works basket and then taped it to the basket. We cut a hole slightly smaller than the basket and edged it with surgical tubing. The basket was then taped into place with the Plexi against the hole in the body.

We cut holes for the iPod and speaker on a side of the body and edged with surgical tubing. I used another piece of the dishwasher basket that fits around the iPod snugly. I taped the basket in place. The iPod slides in from below, and I made a Gorilla tape hinge to help hold it in place. The speaker was taped into place, the hole made a bit smaller than the speaker.

We cut out a hole slightly smaller than the circuit board on the back of the body. I attached a copper spiral thingy (another surplus store find) to one edge and glued the circuit board to the OUTSIDE of the body against the hole. I added three flat-headed LED book lights on the inside taped to shine through the circuit board.

Surgical tubing was added around the bottom of the robot body, the neck and arm openings and the edge of the bucket head. I also glued it around the mouth vent for a finishing touch.


• Empty Gatorade and Powerade bottles
• Plastic stroller wheel hubs (surplus store)
• Old shoes, shoe box and duct tape
• Toy grabbing claw and giant articulating hand

For the arms, I took the labels off of four Gatorade and two Powerade (individual size) bottles. I cut tops and bottoms off of each to get the center cylinders. The forearm pieces are a Gatorade and Powerade cylinder fitted together and glued. I added a baby stroller wheel hub to one end, glued flat. and extending out a bit. The upper arm band is a single Gatorade cylinder. All four assembled pieces were painted with the darker silver paint, and the outside edges were lined with surgical tubing. I made leg pieces in the same fashion, but my son isn't wearing them in the photos.

The shoes are old Converse with shoe boxes cut for the tops and the whole thing covered in duct tape. We made more realistic-looking shoe covers to start, but they proved difficult to trick-to-treat in. ***If you want something more interesting and don't have to worry about steps, take two grab-in hardware bins (they are usually yellow or blue and stack. They have a front and back that are angled out so that you can reach in). Turn them upside down, cut a hole in the top towards what will be the back, and a slit from the hole straight down the back. Spray paint. Hold the slit side open a bit, slide the ankle through and the bins settle right over any old shoes. They look great, but are not as easy to walk in.***

We sprayed painted the toy claw with the dark silver paint and left the articulating hand in the colors it came in.

We loaded some robot tunes onto the iPod, placed fresh batteries in all of the compartments, and had our son put on some grey sweats and the robot shoes. Once everything else was on, the light panel danced with the music and any other sound made around it. the blinky lights flashed, the pulley rotated and the circuit board glowed a beautiful green pattern.
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Halloween Photo Instructable Contest



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    30 Discussions

    Congratulations on being a finalist in the Halloween contest!!! Can’t wait to see if you win! Good luck!

    2 replies

    Thank you! I am honored to be a be included with so many awesome entries.

    Love this and am going to try to do this for my son who is also 8. Do you remember how big the tub was you used (how many L) and did you have to paint the surgical tubing?


    2 replies


    I do not remember the size, however, it was one of the bigger ones. I had my son stand in front of it to make sure it was wider than his shoulders and would come down far enough to get to his upper thigh. Also, I chose one with a nice shape to the cover, which became the front of the robot. I did not have to paint the tubing. I hope that helps! Good luck!


    Really clever... I love mid-century robots and this captures the appearance perfectly! You got my vote ;-)

    2 replies

    We love those old robots, too. My son has collected tin toy type replicas since he was seven.

    Very cool looking costume!! I agree with Brosiman, ya might think about splitting the photos up with the text in steps, it's okay if you don't have all the steps photo graphed but sometimes a few pics help. You can also imbed words on the photo, so if there is an area you want to explain. :) HOWEVER, this is fantastic and I'm so glad you shared, can't wait to see what you do next! :)

    2 replies

    Thank you! This was my first Instructible - I wanted to separate the photos throughout, but I just could out figure out how to do it.