Two of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe are the droids, R2-D2 and his ever-complaining companion, C-3P0. In recent years, a growing number of fans from all over the world have taken to constructing their own operating robots, calling themselves “Droid Builders.” The R2 units being built are more than mere mockups, they are fully functioning copies and, in some cases, better than the onscreen versions. In fact, these droid builders can make their R2 units do everything but fly… and I bet they’re working on that!
The R2 Builders Club fits in perfectly with our initiative of using Star Wars to inspire learning. I don’t know the first thing about designing and building an R2 unit, but I am excited at the thought of giving it a try! Whether your students are interested in engineering, math, art and design, or simply part of a robotics team, we encourage you to consider building your own R2 unit. The excitement that comes with seeing such a beloved and iconic character come to life is unreal. And the best part… your students were the ones responsible for bringing the droid to life.
Why is building an R2 unit better than having students design and build their own robot? Perhaps it’s not, but constructing a familiar face may be what is needed to get your students excited about and interested in the project. Everyone knows R2-D2 and understands the outcome and functions they should see. An R2 build would unite a group around a common goal with realistic expectations. Immediately starting with a self-engineered robot may prove too ambitious as the students may have difficulty formulating a plan and visualizing the end product.
Starting with an R2 unit will help motivate students who have zero interest or experience in engineering and robotics. A droid build may be the push they need to keep them interested and inspire them to create their own designs. We hope you’ll consider building an R2 unit at your school. Imagine how cool it would be to have R2-D2 roaming the halls of your school!
What can droid building lead to? If you're lucky enough, you may just end up building droids on the next Star Wars film. That's exactly what happened to amateur droid builders, Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples. Read about their story on TheVerge.com.
A video we made of a somewhat "naked" R2 visiting the cantina set during Star Wars Celebration 2015.
Beyond R2 building, there is a national robotics competition known as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). According to their website, FIRST was founded to “motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.”
Each year, FIRST sponsors competitions for students of all ages! Robotics teams from around the country compete by designing and constructing robots that must complete various, and often difficult tasks.
FIRST teams work throughout the school year to design and build their robot from the ground up. Often, the robotics teams partner with local businesses, engineers and sponsors to assist them in making their design a reality. Without the support of these companies and individuals, many robotics teams would never get beyond the design phase. If you’re unfamiliar with FIRST, we encourage you to check them out and consider either joining or starting a robotics team at your school. Remember, starting with an R2 unit may be a terrific way to generate interest and train your young padawans... or builders!
If you already have a robotics team at your school, we would love to hear from you and share information about your program. Don’t forget to send some pictures too!
If building a full size R2 unit or jumping into FIRST competitions is a little too ambitious for you, consider starting on a smaller scale to get your students interested. Check out Lego's Mindstorms or Sphero robots (ala BB-8). These projects are a great and more affordable way to introduce the fascinating world of robotics to your students.
Robotics is a field that involves more than building R2 units... that's just for fun. Robot designers and engineers work to make our world better by creating robots that make our lives easier and safer.
Robots also allow us to do things and go places we would otherwise not be able to visit. Like in Star Wars, we send robotic probes to distant planets where they perform experiments that provide invaluable information about a planet's surface and atmosphere. NASA's Curiosity rover is one of the best known examples in recent years. Curiosity has proven invaluable in learning more about Mars, where it landed and began its research in August, 2012. Since then, the car-sized rover has been sending back pictures and data from all over the "Red Planet." Its longevity and design allows it to remain on the planet well beyond human capability.
Robotics is also used in many modern prosthetics. Each day we get closer to providing men and women in need of prosthetics with fully functioning limbs (see the DEKA Arm). We also find robotics being used in the field of medicine. More often, doctors employ the aid of robots to help them perform invasive probing and surgeries. Many medical professionals envision a not so distant future where nanorobots will be used within the human body to fight deadly diseases or repair damaged organs.
NASA is even working on designing a robot that could perform repairs to the International Space Station.