The reasons why I wanted to make a robot suit are complex. To make a long story short, I wanted a costume that I could use to entertain my peers while they studiously prepared for final exams. But I didn't want any old costume--I wanted a robot suit, and I wanted a robot suit that would light up.
Thus, the idea behind the robot costume with LEDs on top was born. While this project took me a fair amount of time, most of it came as a result of a number of mistakes I made during the design and building process that I had to go back and fix. Luckily, though, you won't make these mistakes: they will be marked off as warnings or things to note.
I wanted to keep the basic structure simple and limit it to materials you could find very easily. That resulted in the end appearance of the costume, which sort of looks like these but the guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo was not the inspiration for this costume by any means.
Special thanks to randofo, lamedust, tetranitrate, bradpowers and fungus amungus for their help and for letting me borrow various items.
The full picture gallery is on the last step.
Step 1: Materials
For this robot, you'll need:
Two Cardboard Boxes. These will act as the head and the body; the body one should be substantially bigger than the head. My box dimensions were: a 1 foot cube for the head and 19.5 inches by 23 inches by 29 inches for the body. The 1 foot cube is standard (and I actually could not find an appropriate box so I built my own. I just cut out five 1 foot by 1 foot squares and taped them together firmly with duct tape--see pictures), but the size of the box for the body is variable. Pick a size that fits and that you can find.
Duct Tape: For taping.
Aluminum Tape. For taping that needs to be shiny.
Electrical Tape. Only a small amount, and just to tape down the wires so they don't get in the way.
Aluminum Foil. I used aluminum foil to cover the robot because I didn't want to use spray paint and I wanted a shiny look. However, spray paint would be a viable, and in some cases, easier, alternative.
Wires: Very standard solid hookup wire. I used red and black so that I could easily keep my positives and negatives straight when wiring.
LEDs: 12 single-colored LEDs. WARNING: If you want to use a mix of colors, make sure all of the LEDs have the same resistance--otherwise your circuit won't work.
Solder. For soldering.
Switch. An SPST switch.
Battery and Battery Holder: 9V Battery.
Resistor. 220 Ohms.
Duct. For the arms; I got the cheapest one I could find. Note that they stretch, so a small one should be plenty.
Latex Gloves. For the hands.
Assorted Trash. To fill the hands.
Boxcutter or Knife. To cut the cardboard.
Soldering Iron. For soldering.
Scissors. Cutting tape, duct, etc.
Ruler. Robots apparently only like crisp, straight lines.
Wire cutter and wire stripper. Preparing the wires.
Step 2: Preparing the Head and Body
Your smaller box needs only five sides, not six. So pick the least appealing side of the small box and cut it off.
Your bigger box also only needs five sides, but cutting off may not be necessary. I extended the flaps that made up one side to make my big box bigger. However, if your box is the correct size without any extension, pick the least appealing side and cut it off.
For eyes, I cut an oval on one side the small box. I made an oval with length 5.5 inches and height 2.25 inches with the top of the oval 4 inches below the edge of the cardboard box. Any variation on eyes can be used, but make sure you can see out of your eye hole(s).
For the neck, I cut a square out of the side of the big box that I wanted to be the top. I cut a 10 inch by 10 inch square, or an area just slightly smaller than the size of my box for the head.
For arm holes, I measured the size of my duct and cut a comparable hole. You want the duct to fit snugly. I tried a number of locations, and it doesn't really matter where you put the holes. I cut my arm holes with the top of the hole about three inches below the edge of the box.
Step 3: Cover the Robot
The next step is to coat your robot to give it that shiny, fresh-out-of-the-laboratory feel. I used aluminum foil and a combination of duct tape and aluminum tape. I ripped off an appropriate size of foil and then taped it down with: a) aluminum tape if it would be showing or b) duct tape if it wasn't. Generally, they are interchangeable but I had a larger supply of duct tape so I used that when I could.
Since the project consumes a large amount of tape, I tried to conserve tape. Cutting the tape into smaller strips is an easy way to get the exact same aesthetic results but get more out of the same amount of tape. Additionally, you can also foil two sides and then aluminum tape the edge, which will tape both sides down but not waste tape by taping twice over the same spot.
Do the head first--it is smaller and easier to work with. WARNING REGARDING THE HEAD: Aluminum conducts electricity! You cannot have foil or aluminum tape where you want your LEDs. Rip off the corners and pieces of the sides of the foil that will cover the top of the head and duct tape where you want your LEDs to go.
When working around the eye hole, cover the entire side in foil and then poke through with one of your tools. Then, carefully peel or push the foil through the eye hole and tape it to the inside. For all the areas that remain uncovered, use tape to fix it.
The body is the same as the head, just on a larger scale. Be sure to use the same tape-conserving tricks.
Step 4: Arms and Hands
The arms proved to be one of the hardest parts of this creation. In the end, I decided on a strategy that maximized comfort and control of the suit; the downside, though, is that my arms don't go into the robot arms but rather stay inside the cardboard box.
I tried a number of locations and designs for the arms and they all resulted in an uncomfortable solution. You still have the option of putting your arms in the robot arms--they will fit--but I think the suit is more usable and comfortable if they remain inside.
To make the arms, you need to cut your duct in half. Take one and cut a few small slits in it with a scissor. Stick that end through the arm hole and fold the slits outward. Duct tape the slits to the box from the inside. On the outside, tape the duct to the outside of the box (covered with foil) with aluminum tape.
Repeat that for the other arm.
For hands, I took latex gloves and filled them with trash (my hands are not going to be in there). Plastic bags work very well, but make sure to stuff them completely to give them a realistic look. Stretch the outside of the wrist part of the glove over the duct and duct tape (finally, using it for its intended purpose, sort of) it.
Step 5: Insert the LEDs
To place your LEDs, you need to poke holes in the top of the box for the LED legs (terminals) to stick through. Remember to make sure there is no aluminum where your LEDs are.
Measure out where you want your LEDs and mark them. Using whatever tool you want (I used an awl) poke two holes, one on either side of the marking. NOTE: Two holes works much better than one because it prevents the two legs of the LED from touching each other. Stick one leg of the LED through each hole.
On the inside of the box, mark which leg is positive and which is negative. Using a battery + resistor and testing is a foolproof way of making sure you don't wire backwards. If you touch the positive end of a battery + resistor to one leg and the negative end of the battery to the other and it lights up, then the leg touching the positive end is positive and the other is negative. If nothing lights up, then flip them and try again. Marking comes in very handy when you are wiring-- a simple "pos" or "+" on the box next to the positive leg will make later steps much easier.
Step 6: Wiring the LEDs
You want to wire your circuit in parallel so that the LEDs are bright beacons of robotics. To do this, you want to wire all of your negatives together and all of your positives together. In other words, connect all of your negative LED legs with one color wire (black) and all of your positive LED legs with another color wire (red). You need to make sure that the red and black wires (when they are stripped) do not touch.
Measure the length (or estimate, if you are a risk-taker) between the two legs you want to wire and cut an appropriate length of the correct color wire. Strip the ends and then twist the leg and the end of the wire together.
Warning: Don't solder yet! Simply twisting will allow you to easily backtrack if there's a mistake somewhere. Plus, it makes soldering easier later since everything is tied tightly together.
The corners might be a little tricky because of the tight confines. With patience, though, you will be able to get all of the wires you need connected. You can connect them in any fashion as long as they are in parallel.
Try to make the wires and the connections flush with the surface. You'll be wearing this, so if anything is poking out, it will poke you.
Step 7: Test Your Circuit
Before you solder, make sure your circuit works. If it doesn't, you'll know there's a mistake somewhere or you need to check your connections.
To test, simply touch the ends of the battery pack (with a resistor) to the correct colors at any point on the circuit. The resistor is necessary to make sure you don't blow the circuit with too much power. You can simply twist tie the resistor onto the positive end of the battery pack and then touch the appropriate colors with the resistor and the negative end of the battery pack.
If your lights all light up and they are not dim, you can move on to the next step. If some or all don't light up, make sure you wired correctly and check to make sure all of your wires are touching where they should be. Keep trying to fix until you let there be light.
Step 8: Solder the Wires
Soldering will make your connections permanent. For more information on soldering, look here. As always, take precautions and be very careful while soldering.
Similarly to the twisting step, the corners will be a little difficult to solder, but it is definitely doable. I recommend having a light source, such as a flashlight, to shine on the area you are working. It can get dark inside of the robot's head.
If anything is still poking out, feel free to take electrical tape to keep it down and out of harm's way.
Step 9: Attach the Head to the Body
The head needs to be attached to the body, but I wanted to still be able to get air without taking off the whole body suit. Inspired by a kid whose name I don't know but who had built a suit with a hinged head, I used tape to attach the head on a hinge. Kudos, random kid from another dorm.
With the head in the upright position, I attached aluminum tape tautly on the outside of the back part of the head. Moving the head to the open position, I attached duct tape tautly to the inside of the back part of the head. The hinge holds up very well if you tape strongly.
Step 10: Attach the Resistor, Battery, and Switch
An extra wire should be connected from the positive leg of the central back LED to which you can twist the resistor. The other end of the resistor should be twisted to the positive end of the battery.
Using electrical tape or other adhesive, attach the battery to the inside of the head. The 9V is little, but carries plenty of weight so make sure that it is firmly in place. Remember to attach it in a place where it won't interfere with your head.
The negative end of the battery should be connected to the switch that will turn the LEDs on and off. I wanted the switch to be in a place where I could easily access it with my hands, so I took a length of black wire and snaked it along the inside part of the back and sides of the costume. I taped it down with electrical tape at intervals to keep it in place and then cut it when it had reached the correct length (so the switch would be on the inside of the front of the body, right near my hands). I twisted the end of the wire with one end of the switch.
Starting from the central back LED's negative terminal, I snaked another wire down the inside of the opposite side of the costume until it met the other end of the switch. I cut it off and twisted it to the other terminal of the switch.
You should now have a complete circuit. Test it by turning the switch on and seeing if everything lights up. If so, continue. If not, try and figure out and fix the problem.
Step 11: Solder and Use Electrical Tape
Now you need to solder the last few connections you just made: the resistor to circuit, the resistor to battery, and the wire to each side of the switch. While the soldering iron is out and ready, make sure all of your previous connections are soldered firmly.
When this is done, use your electrical tape to cover anything sticking out or poking. This can include wires, joints, etc. Additionally, make sure you tape down the switch to the box so that it remains in one place.
Step 12: Handles
Because your arms are inside of the costume, attaching simple handles will make the entire suit easy to control. I made very simple duct tape handles by laying a shorter piece of duct tape on top of a longer one, allowing the ends of the original piece to be exposed and sticky. I attached the exposed sticky parts to the inside of the costume where my hands would be and reinforced with more duct tape.
Step 13: Wear the Suit
Your suit should be complete! If there are any spots on the outside that need quick fixes, a little aluminum tape should cover the blemish. At this point, you should have thoroughly practiced doing "The Robot" and should awkwardly try to recreate it with the suit on.
I may add a few upgrades in the future, such as a voice modulator so that the robot has a robotic voice. If or when that happens, I'll post it here.