Admit it: You've always wanted to be Bender from "Futurama." Or C3PO from "Star Wars." Maybe even Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Whatever your robot fantasies, Halloween is the perfect time to indulge them. With a little planning and the right supplies, you can create a fun-looking robot costume that's sure to be the hit of the neighborhood.
Plan your design
Sketch out how you want your costume to look; this will help determine what supplies you'll need and the amount of time required for assembly. The classic robot design is built using a pair of cardboard boxes (one for the head, the other for the body). Hit the stores to round up any materials you don't already have on hand.
Build the body
Start with a square or rectangular box that fits your (opr your kid's) torso with a little extra room on the inside to accommodate electronics. (Shipping stores have a good selection if you want to shop for the right "fit.") Cut away the entire bottom, then cut roomy holes on either side for each arm. Make one more on top for your head. Spray it with a couple coats of metallic silver paint.
Build the head
A 12x12x12-inch box should be more than adequate to accommodate your head. Plan a suitable spot to cut eye holes -- usually where the robot's nose or mouth would go. A 10x2-inch metal vent cover makes an excellent mouth, plus you can easily see through it. Attach it with hot glue, then paint the entire head the same metallic color as the body.
Angry up the eyes
Robot eyes should be large, illuminated, and three-dimensional. For an especially cool effect, hot-glue a round, red reflector inside an empty tuna-fish can -- then glue a white finger-light to the bottom of each reflector. Repeat that assembly for the other eye, and then glue the cans on the head. Place them side by side, or set them slightly askew for a more demented-robot look.
Dress up the body
There are countless ways to dress up a robot body. Pillage old electronics and computer gear for switches, dials, keypads, and other elements you can affix to the front of the box. (You get bonus points for anything that lights up.) For an interactive element, get the T-Qualizier Shirt from ThinkGeek. It's a t-shirt with a built-in equalizer, which lights up in response to ambient sound. The equalizer part is just Velcro'd on, so rip it off the shirt and add it to your costume. (You might be able to finder the shirt for less on eBay.)
Install a screen, part 1
A truly futuristic robot, of course, has an interactive display. Look no further than your smartphone, tablet, or iPod Touch, any of which can be repurposed for costume duty. Cut a screen-size hole in the body, and mount the device behind it, or build a frame for the device that attaches to the outside of the body, thus giving it some extra dimension. Either way, make sure that only the screen is visible, otherwise it ruins the effect. And be sure to adjust the settings so the screen never dims or shuts off while you're wearing the costume.
Install a screen, part 2
Once you've found a home for the screen, figure out what it should show. One great choice: animated gears. Android users can grab Mechanical Gear 3D, a free live-wallpaper app that makes for perfect robot "innards." iOS users may need to get more creative, perhaps by finding an animated GIF to show in the device's Web browser. On your desktop, run a Google Image Search for "gears," then choose Search Tools > Type > Animated. When you find one, e-mail the link to your phone or tablet so you can open it there.
Related: Mechanical Gear 3D for Android
Add sound effects, part 1
To really put your costume over the top, consider at least one audio accessory. Start with the Velleman Voice Changer, which, once mounted inside your robot head, makes your voice sound like a robot. It's incredibly cool, but you'll need to solder it to a speaker (like one you can salvage from an old radio).
Related: The Velleman Voice Changer
Add sound effects, part 2
It's one thing to make your voice sound like a robot, but quite another to make your movements sound like a robot. ThinkGeek's Mega Stomp Panic is a motion-sensitive speaker box you clip to your waist. As you walk, you'll hear the unmistakable clanging sounds of either a hydraulic or steampunk robot (two of the nine available sound effects). Best. Accessory. Ever.
Related: ThinkGeek Mega Stomp Panic