My recent work with Tackle-bot, a robot frame built from a fishing tackle box, started me thinking about other ways to build a robot frame for those of us who are mechanically impaired. I've tried some of the following ideas; others I'm just tossing out for your consideration.
Flower pots work quite well, actually. Stop by Freddy's and check out the plastic pots in the nursery section. You can get some really cool looking pots for very few bucks. The tall ones would make a good start for a robo-cop, while the short ones would work well for a robopet or a show-bot. Also look at the detachable drip pans, normally sold separately. Turned upside down, these would make a short, wide base for a robopet or for an experimental platform.
Radio Shack, VETCO, and many mail-order houses sell project boxes of all shapes and sizes. You can take a box made of ABS, hack out places for the wheels and front casters, and build a complete robot inside. You get your choice of large or small, and you can even find some of the fancy cases with the sloping fronts that would make a cool-looking wedge-shaped machine. You can even try one of the very small cases intended to hold IR projects. These come with a built-in battery compartment for either a 9v battery or a pair of AA-cells. With proper design, you should be able to build a 'bot that uses one of these supplies but fits in the smaller chassis.
Stop on by the local sports card shop and check out the plastic cases for holding trading cards. These usually come in sizes to hold 25, 50, or 100 cards; the 100-card size is about two inches tall. The boxes consists of two mating clear plastic shells; one half fits very snugly into the other for a nearly watertight unit. The plastic is probably a little harder to work than ABS (it looks like an acrylic) but it should still be within the machining skills of all but the true software types.
Head on down to the local computer store, such as Computer City, and take a look at the desktop floppy disc storage boxes. Some of them look like they would make neat robot frames, what with the smoked plastic covers and decorator colors. A little work with the Dremel, some trim from the local hobby store, and poof; you've got a spiffy robot frame.
I've always wondered about taking the innards out of a mouse (the computer kind, of course) and stashing a tiny robot inside. The shape would be perfect if you could get motors small enough. Slap in a 9v alkaline or a pair of N-size batteries and you're ready to go. Seems like the pager motors would be a natural for this design.
One of my favorite SRS robots is Keith Payea's Hoover, a robot built into the business end of a vacuum cleaner. Hoover just has this neat, high-tech shape, and the gray-and-black color scheme looks neat.
A cruise through the local Value Village should turn up one of those 1950's art-deco toasters, the kind with the sleek steel case and the rounded corners. That should give you plenty of space to stash some robot guts and still have room for two slices of paper-mache' bread. Add a couple of servos or a simple gearing system, and you could have this robot motoring across the floor popping toast up and down.
Well, that should give you enough ideas to keep busy for a while. Let me know if you try one of these ideas, and bring your new base to the next meeting.
Keep on keeping on...
"Technology marches on. Over you or through you, take your pick." Attributed to Stewart Brand