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Build a working robot

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

Click here for a PDF version of these instructions.

Basic GISMO 3 robotIn September 1990, Boys’ Life readers met GISMO 3, an easy-to-build robot that sat atop the chassis of a radio-controlled toy truck. Thousands of GISMO-Guys built some incredible ‘bots that boggled the imagination.

Now GISMO is back and ready to rumble. Our newest member of the clan, GISMO 4, is a bumper-bot. He’s ready to do battle, Sumo style, against other GISMOs or roll around the house or yard for a joyride without denting people or furniture.

GISMO 4 is wicked quick, controllable by remote up to 70 feet away.

You can build the basic GISMO for about $60. Spend less if you can find parts around the house. Several readers who built our last GISMO found inexpensive working radio-controlled trucks at flea markets or garage sales.

GISMO’s head is a clear plastic food storage container. His body can be made from a number of round plastic containers, as long as there is enough clearance for the wheels. We used a large plastic planter pot, but you could substitute a laundry basket or wastebasket for the body shell. Outside the body, we attached a plastic foam bumper.

Customized GISMO 4 robotThe heart of GISMO 4 is a radio-controlled truck chassis, including motor and wheels. Choose a 4 x 4 style truck with a rugged motor and good traction.

We used a Nikko Dodge Power Wagon. With high ground clearance and knobby balloon tires, it runs well even on carpet. It also comes with a rechargeable battery system. Other remote control trucks will work too.

If you plan to have Sumo-style ’bot battles with friends, choose remote-control vehicles on different radio frequencies so they don’t interfere with each other. You’ll find the information on the outside of the box, usually “49MHz” or “27MHz” or channel numbers.

To give GISMO 4 a high-tech look, apply a coat of silver paint, attach an antenna and stick an old circuit board under the clear dome for an electronic “brain.” Or go for the sumo look: a cloth tied on bottom and a cool pair of sunglasses on its head, under a topknot of hair.


  • Chassis from a radio-controlled truck.
  • Large plastic planter, wastebasket, or 1.5-bushel laundry basket.
  • Plastic storage container.
  • Plastic foam “noodle.”
  • One piece of 1-by-2-inch lumber
  • Screws
  • Epoxy glue
  • Tape
  • Long nylon wire ties
  • Sandpaper
  • Nuts, bolts, and flat washers.
  • Tools Needed: Saw, screwdriver, pliers, drill or awl, scissors.

Step 1STEP 1: Test drive the radio-controlled truck before you remove the chassis. Stores may not honor the warranty afterward.

Step 2STEP 2: Turn the truck over and remove the screws that hold the truck body to the chassis. Carefully lift the body off, pulling the antenna wire through the hole. Leave the front bumper/winch assembly on the front to provide extra stability for front-end bumping. Save the body parts and screws.

Step 3STEP 3: Center the 1-by-2-inch wood block and chassis, wheels up, on the plastic tub. Slide the chassis forward so the front bumper touches the tub. Mark and cut the block so it fits snugly inside—trim or sand the corners for a tighter fit. Glue the block to the flat part in the center of the chassis, above the motor battery compartment. Don’t let glue get on the other parts of the chassis. Check the fit inside the plastic body and set aside to dry.

Step 4STEP 4: Center the food storage container’s lid on the bottom of the plastic tub. Use an awl or drill to make a hole through both. Attach the lid with a nut, bolt and two flat washers.

Step 5STEP 5: Use an awl or drill to make a hole to attach the tub to the front bumper of the truck chassis. Secure with a bolt, nut and two flat washers. Mount the robot’s plastic body to the chassis’s wooden block with small wood screws. Make sure there is enough clearance for the wheels to turn and move freely. Tape the antenna wire to the inside of the body.

Step 6STEP 6: Add the foam noodle around the opening of the robot’s body to act as a bumper. Trim the noodle to fit, then use an awl or drill to make holes at the back and front as shown in the diagram. Attach the noodle to the body using nylon wire ties.

Step 7STEP 7: Paint or add accessories to the robot’s body if you want. We added an arm to GISMO (we used a plastic baseball bat). Now he’ll look more like the BattleBots of TV fame. Use an awl or drill to make holes through the body where you want to mount the arm. Use nylon wire ties to attach.

GISMO 4 is now complete. Add other accessories to your not-so-lean bumping machine and enjoy some ’bot bouts with your friends.

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55 Comments on Build a working robot

  1. I wish it could do my homework and clean my room.

  2. I think there should be a real robot that you actually have to program if you guys at boy’s life can work that out I would be grateful. by the way if it could be cheap that would be nice

  3. this is supercool!!!!!!!!!

  4. 😀 cool 😀

  5. DeltaBravo12 // December 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm // Reply

    It looks a bit like a Dalek.

  6. wow this is the coolest

  7. I wonder if I can attach my mini RC helicopter to the original thing, then I can drive it on ground as well as fly it!!

  8. I so want to try it!!!

  9. i think its gonna be to hard!

  10. mind blowing

  11. it is awesome

  12. I would use the recever from the car or truck and put it on an ardwino. Ps an ardwino is a programable cercut bord

  13. i m gonna try this one

  14. awesome!

  15. I am going to build one!

  16. johnblackhawks // August 14, 2010 at 10:35 pm // Reply


  17. cool project

  18. jockeyof09 // July 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm // Reply

    i attached to knifes on the end of the baseball bat

  19. i used a lamp shade for the base instead of the plastic tub it works just as good

  20. how big is it

  21. wow! very scientific!

  22. I made this.It was awesome.And very at that.

  23. BoyScoutTroop85 // May 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm // Reply

    AWSOME! This could totally be usefull! 8)

  24. It is to cool and i will use it for my science fair at school and will surely win!!!:D

  25. THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!

  26. AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. i wonder if i can make flying ones

  28. Cool! I can use it in the science fair at my school!!! 🙂

  29. Awesome!I can use it for the sience fair I entered in school!

  30. im a girl but this thing is so cool! I love robots and building things. PERFECT

  31. cool i can use it for my science fair at my school

  32. Whhops!! Meant to say try in stead of tfy!

  33. Looks AWSOME! I Will have to tfy it!

  34. ITS COOL:)

  35. still a kid at heart // September 16, 2009 at 8:10 pm // Reply

    I remember one that had a flag that would release when the button on the front was hit. how did you construct the trigger and flag mount?

  36. it’s good i’ll try to make it.

  37. That is weird looking

  38. so got to try 🙂

  39. PlatypusGuy // August 27, 2009 at 1:11 pm // Reply

    You can guess what I am gonna do today!

  40. i liked the robot expirement

  41. its totally coolill do it

  42. im goona give it a sword and make a mindstorms minibot that i can launch out of gizmo

  43. how big is that thing.

  44. jimmyjohnspizza // August 10, 2009 at 3:39 pm // Reply


  45. yep. used servos and 2 dc motors other than the ones the car came with and now, it does a better job and can go 20 mph

  46. i will use servos instead to make it programibble

  47. I am VERY intrested. ill try it.

  48. I’m gonna do this and sell it.

  49. This looks good i have most of the parts and am going to try it out

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