Host Your Own Robot Holiday Party

eHow Tech Blog

Everyone has a favorite holiday movie. For some, it’s Miracle on 34th Street. Others adore It’s a Wonderful Life (for some reason). Me? I am a fan of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (you can watch it for free on Hulu, if you dare). It combines all of my favorite elements of Christmas with rocket ships, robots, and aliens. You know, like any good holiday film should.

Even if your friends and family are a bit geeky, I’m going to work under the assumption that you probably can’t force them to endure 79 minutes of Santa battling Martians with ray guns. So I came up with a cool alternative: A Build-a-Holiday-Robot party. Sounds awesome, right? To make sure it is indeed as much fun as it sounds like, I threw just such a party here in the eHow office last week. In essence, I play-tested the party for you, so you can feel confident to do it on your own without any robot-induced anxiety.

You are welcome.

At our recent eHow party, about 25 folks built their own personalized holiday robot, and here’s how it all went down.

The robot skeleton. Before you can dress up a robot as some sort of holiday character, you need to start with a robot body. I found the Tin Can Robot kit from a company called 4M – you can buy it from sites like X-Treme Geek, RadioShack, and Amazon. Prices for the kit range from about $9-$15 depending upon where you get it, and all you need to add is a AA battery, an empty soda (or, depending upon where you live, “pop”) can, and a small screwdriver. You certainly don’t need to choose this kit, but I like it because it’s inexpensive – you can host a fairly sizable robot party for about $10 a head – and it’s easy to assemble. The kit comes with a large “exploded-view” diagram and a 16-step assembly guide that teenagers and adults should be able to navigate on their own; pre-teens will want to pair up with an older Robot Assembly Technician.

Festive tin cans. Since I intended to transform these robots into holiday icons, I collected cans in advance (that wasn’t hard — we drink a lot of soda at eHow), took them home, and spray painted them festive colors in my garage. If you do this, be sure to lay down plenty of newspaper to protect your floor and any surrounding real estate. I divided my cans into three sets and painted them red, white, and silver – this way my robot builders could choose the color they preferred.

Robot bling. The tin can robots are fun – once you build them they teeter around on wobbly, cam-shaped wheels – but they’re awfully plain looking. I wanted to give the robot builders a lot of options to improve on the basic design. First up was the geeky stuff. I raided a local RadioShack and bought a few bags full of electronic parts – resistors, capacitors, wire, and so on. They’ve got drawers full of the stuff there, and it’s all remarkably cheap.

I still have nightmares that after emptying the shelves at the local store, I stymied some guy who was one resistor away from finishing a cold fusion reactor in his garage, forever ending the world’s energy problems, but hey. We’re building holiday robots. Priorities, people.

Even if you don’t know what any of the stuff actually does, just scoop some into your shopping basket – as long as it looks high-tech, it’ll make good robot fodder when glued onto the tin can robot body.

That said, a bowl full of capacitors does not a holiday robot make, so I needed something festive as well. That’s where Jerri, eHow’s editor-in-chief, came to the rescue. She knitted a handful of can-sized caps. A few were clearly Santa caps – for SantaBots, obviously – as well as a slew of more traditional winter hats for SnowmanTrons and anything else people wanted to concoct. She also made some reindeer antlers, which gave me an idea that I’ll tell you about later.

The big day. On the day of the big event, I organized a sort of assembly line on a long folding table. People could step up, grab a robot box, battery, screwdriver, and tin can (in the color of their choice). I then sent them off to a separate work table (pre-loaded with snacks) so they could build their robots.

It took about an hour for folks to assemble their basic bot; some people flew through the process in half the time, but the tiny screws and Ikea-like assembly diagram slowed down some others who weren’t used to building models.

Word of advice: If someone’s completed bot has trouble walking because the motor doesn’t seem to be working properly, it probably isn’t defective. Diana, our Lifestyles editor, simply didn’t tighten the screws. A few additional twists of the screwdriver and the robot was all fired up and excited to start delivering presents to good little cyborgs.

As each robot builder completed their bot, they returned to the assembly line and chose accessories – hat, antlers, electronic doo-dads – that they wanted to flesh out their holiday bot. Some tubes of instant glue and a hot glue gun were standing by for robot surgeries.

RoboParade! In the end, we created a crowd of RoboSantas, a herd of ReindeerTronics, and a gaggle of miscellaneous RoboHolidayBots.

Indeed, when I saw all the reindeer, I decided we need to create a Christmas Eve sleigh scene – so I cut a can in half lengthwise and turned it into Santa’s sleigh, filled with all the goodies SantaBot would (presumably) want to deliver to all the good androids, robots, Cylons, and other artificially intelligent gadgets each year. I lashed a string of ReindeerTronics to the sleigh, and trailed the whole thing with a SantaBot.

Can you do better? Planning your own robot assembly party? I’d love to see your creations. Share your holiday robots with me on Twitter.

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