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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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66 Comments on Build a working robot

  1. I can’t wait to try it!:)

  2. skateboard89159 // April 18, 2013 at 5:11 pm // Reply

    this is pritty cool

  3. former den mom // March 30, 2013 at 9:54 am // Reply

    Do I remember correctly that you had instructions for a DALEK made with a trash can?

  4. it’s cool robo

  5. It’s cool dude!:-)

  6. i will try this cool idea and tell u the auspicious result

  7. Its awesome I always wanted my own robot

  8. what is needed to make a autonomous robot?

  9. Can its arms and hands move if they dont its a ripoff and a waste of time.

  10. they should have a video

  11. it lpoks cool i will try it

  12. i will try and see if i can get one 🙂

  13. it sounds cool, but i don’t have any RC cars

  14. epic!

  15. how big

  16. looks hard but I might try it

  17. awesome!

  18. cool, ima try it, cause ima boss

  19. cool im gonna try it

  20. I made one and gave it to my mom for her birthday!(not average mom)

  21. sweet girl // July 2, 2012 at 5:29 am // Reply

    its quite tough to make.

  22. Robomaniac // June 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm // Reply

    In order to make it more advanced you would first have to have a basic understanding of how micro controllers work such as the Arduino, PIC, or PICAXE. Then you have to learn a little bit about basic circuits and electronics, then go from there.

  23. i fix remote control helicopters and work with this stuff is cool!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. its nice

  25. Very cool dude

  26. Awesome sauce 3,000 // April 24, 2012 at 9:08 pm // Reply

    It sounds really cool!!!!

  27. to make it more heavy and battle friendly what can we do?

  28. how big is it

    • it don’t matter how big it’s how cool

    • basically however big your other parts are. If you can imagine all your parts combined, that’s how big it will be.
      if you want a big one, get as big as you can get with all your parts.

  29. they call me awesome // April 2, 2012 at 8:45 pm // Reply

    i want to built a human looking robot…….. but i need ALOT of parts. and then my mom would think im weird.

  30. Cool I want to try!!!(:

  31. ya me too

  32. is it good for a science fair

  33. I want to try it

  34. How could you put arm and legs on one

  35. $mile¢$$$$$ // July 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm // Reply

    It’s so coollllll

  36. This “robot” could be enhanced 20fold by incorporating an arduino controller.

  37. Anonymous // May 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm // Reply

    its hard

  38. awesomeness 14 // May 25, 2011 at 6:42 am // Reply

    i have always wanted to make a robot to help my mum lets see if this one works with a little adjustments so it can move its hands and feet and all

    • it’s much,much,better than people think it is

    • Did you do it if so how

    • Robomaniac // June 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm // Reply

      Actually adding an arduino (atmega328) is a lot easier than its sounds, I work with them all the time and understood hwo to use one in only about 1 day. You could also try other variation such as PIC, PICAXE, or even Basic Micro controllers. Along with that you just need some servos, and other fancy stuff which is a little complicated to explain.

  39. its ok

  40. coolman555 // April 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm // Reply

    I have looked on 4 or 5 different websites on how to build a homemade robot and this is the only I found that you dont have to order off of ebay.

  41. mr. awesome // March 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm // Reply

    this looks cool but its not a robot….its a cup with parts on it and put on wheels so all it can do is move and run into a wall

  42. robot boy who likes legos // March 22, 2011 at 5:32 pm // Reply

    i all ways wanted to build a robot but this one is kind of lame i hope to find a cooler one soon.sorry:( ps.legos are better

  43. clonetrooper // March 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm // Reply

    it looks good but it is not a real robot all it can do is move

  44. I’m gonna attatch the scoopin part of a shovel so it can clean my room!!

  45. its good but… its not really a robot :-<) \m/

  46. thats pretty awesome

  47. its allright

  48. I relly want to do this,but the thing is,I can’t.This is a LAPTOP!

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