Electronic Design

Robots Roll In Indianapolis

The droids came out to play at Star Wars Celebration 3, as the R2-D2 Builders Club showed off working models of R2-D2 from the Star Wars films at the Indianapolis Convention Center in April. While building a working R2-D2 isn't easy, the members bring a wide range of backgrounds to the club and work together via the Web.

"When people accomplish something, they share it," said Craig Smith, a service technician. Learning from his own experience and taking inspiration from other members, he has built several units.

Alexander Kung, a mechanical engineer, completed his design in CAD before cutting any material. While he relies on the electronics advice of other members, he's not afraid "to get in there and blow stuff up," he said. "I redesigned the frame, redesigned the sound, the lights, the swinging dome. It gives him the personality people come to expect."

"We produce all the kits, sound boards, and so on," said Jim Shima, who works with DSPs in his day job and founded Hyperdyne Labs to provide parts for his fellow fans. His own R2 includes an IR sensor so the robot can react to people walking by. The R2 also features a camera that feeds video to the remote control so Shima gets a "droid's-eye view" of where the robot is going.

The club members aren't the only R2 builders who depend on off-the-shelf parts. Even Don Bies, Lucasfilm's droid supervisor and the operator of the "real" R2-D2, likes a design with replaceable components.

"There's always a need to swap out parts," he said, citing some of the breakdowns during the filming of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Yet he also confessed that he didn't have an engineering background, and as an "electronics illiterate," he needs to keep the design simple.

One of the R2s used in Episode I: The Phantom Menace was on display in the R2 Builders room. Many visitors couldn't tell the difference between the official droid and the droids the club built. In fact, the club asked Bies to enter the "real" R2 in the DroidYard 500, a tournament where members raced their robots against each other. Bies declined.

"What if I lose?" he laughed.

Hundreds of fans came out to watch the races. Shima took first place in the home-built drive category, while Kung won the scooter-drive division. Smith won the mouse droid event.

"They have very accurate R2s, much nicer than the real one," Bies said. "If they would have been around 10 years ago (when Lucasfilm started work on Episodes 1 through 3), I would have called them up."

For more photos, see Drill Deeper 10405 at www.elecdesign.com.

R2-D2 Builders Club


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