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by Andrew Dost

multi-instrumentalist, member of fun.

There are many reasons to build a robot for your home.  It'd be great to have a robot maid, a robot chef, or even a robot to get you dressed in the morning.  Unfortunately, most of us lack the technical know-how, or weapons-grade plutonium to build such an abomination.  But don't worry!  You can build a reasonable facsimile with what you have readily at hand!

There are still plenty of reasons to build a robot that doesn't do anything in particular.  Perhaps you're redecorating, and you want something futuristic in the house.  Perhaps you have a buildup of recyclables that you just can't bear to part with!   Maybe you need something that could sort of double as a trash receptacle or something.  Perhaps you're bored and lonely, and you need an activity and a friend.

Whatever your reasons are, here's a guide to get you started on your journey.



A garbage can.

This will be the body/chest of the robot, so pick a can (or cardboard box) that's sized and shaped appropriately.

Dryer vent tube.

8 ft. sections are about $10, or you could tear up your laundry area.


This will be used to hang up the arms.

A clamp.

The kind you squeeze and clamp onto something.  This will be a hand, so it's  only essential if you want a clampy-hand robot.  This is good for the incredible robot clutching strength you hear so much about these days.  But you can really use whatever you want, such as:

A glove.  

This will be the other hand.  I used a Thinsulate winter glove.  This is for finer detail work, which the clamp would just destroy.  Perhaps your robot will play the works of Chopin.  Perhaps your robot will be a juggle-bot!

A tin can.

Really, tin cans are the staple of non-functional home robotics.  I only used one for this robot, as his neck, but you may want more.  

A coffee can.

Ideally, you'd have the giant-tin-can kind, but mine was plastic.  Plastic will still work.

Duct tape.

Another non-functional home robotics essential.

Aluminum foil.

This is of the utmost importance.  Foil and duct tape are really the only things you need to build a non-functional robot.  It's not just for his exterior, but, much like a bug or a crustacean, aluminum foil is really the heart and soul of the non-functional robot (exoskeleton = soul in bugs I think).

Vintage Polaroid Camera.

This isn't necessary, just something I put in the robot for a little flair.  It could potentially give some function to your non-functional robot, so if there's anything you'd want to put in there, go for it!  The camera is, theoretically, how the robot takes in visual information from the outside world.  If the camera worked, he would then process that information and spit it back out in the form of a photograph.  But this is a broken camera I got from Goodwill, for the sole purpose of being jammed into a robot.

LED light variety pack.

These were on sale at Home Depot when I bought the dryer vent stuff, and I figured they'd come in handy.  Plus it was only $7 for like 10 LED flashlights, including headlamps, and the batteries were included!  I couldn't resist.

Custom construction paper gauges

Robots need visible gauges so you can make sure they're working properly.  I made some out of construction paper. 

Now you're ready to begin!

1. Cut a hole in the garbage can to make room for the camera.

This is the most dangerous step of the whole process - and is only necessary if you have a camera or something you want to put in the chest of the robot.  If you do - proceed!  Measure the size and shape of your camera carefully.  Once I did this, I drew the shape with a Sharpie, then cut.  I used a steak knife and a plastic garbage can.  It was pretty easy to cut, but be careful.  Chances are, you won't measure correctly, like a big dummy (i.e. me), and your hole will be slightly too big.  And misshapen.  OH WELL.  Proceed anyway.  Count your fingers when you're done and make sure everybody is present and accounted for.




2.  Cover everything with tinfoil. 

Starting with carefully torn pieces for your camera-hole, and duct tape to attach it, cover every visible piece of the garbage can with tinfoil.  You can get clever with your tearing, and placement, if you want to give him a suit-of-armor look, or whatever.  Go nuts.


3.  Insert the camera.

 Hopefully it's a good fit, but even if it's not, you'll have to duct tape the back to support it anyway.  Just make sure it'll stay.  I put about 8 big pieces of duct tape inside the garbage can to lock the camera in place.




4.  The Head.

 Cover the coffee can in foil, unless it's made of metal.  Set the tin can on the "shoulders" to simulate the neck, then place the head on top.  Duct tape everything together.




5.  Arms!

Cut the dryer vent in half.  Normal scissors will work for the foil part, but mine wouldn't cut through the wire...  I bent it back and forth until it broke.  Once you have two equal pieces, you can duct tape them to the shoulders. 

Once the arms are secured to the shoulders, you can pose the arms.  Traditionally in non-functional home robotics, the arm options are "Hang 'em Up" or "Let 'em Dangle."  I chose "Hang 'em Up!"

I wrapped yarn around each "wrist," then tied the other end of each yarn piece (about 3 feet long) to a curtain rod.  You can pose the arms however you want.  I chose "Triumphant, like he just won a 5K."




6.  Hands!

This is pretty easy - just stuff the glove and clamp in the dryer vent tubes.




7.  The rest.

You've gotten all the main parts, now it's time to decorate.  Attach gauges, eyes, a smile, whatever you want.  I also gave mine a dashing club-soda-bottle hat, and stuck an LED headlamp inside to make it light up.  He also has an LED headlamp on his neck, as a kind of futuristic bow tie.




Now you're done!  Enjoy this new member of your household.  






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