a school district or a university
computer department than by a
parent for some kids’ birthday gift.
In the late 1980s, I did finally
manage to acquire an R2-inspired
robot from IDEAL toys — the Maxx
Steel robot (Figure 2). Maxx was
roughly the same height as an R2
(actually, a bit shorter) and he had
dual arms that he could raise and lower.
At the end of the arms he sported a
rubber-lined “claw” that could hold a
soda can, but not much else. He also
spoke using a limited set of plain
English canned phrases that you could
string together to make sentences. You
could program sounds, lights, music,
and motion to make little “shows” he
could perform on cue. Though cute
and fairly advanced for his time, he
was really more of a toy and frankly,
he just wasn’t R2.
■ FIGURE 2. The author’s Maxx
enthusiasm was dimmed a bit
when I realized just how much
metalworking and/or wood
crafting would be required to
create some of the custom parts
for an R2 unit. Though I knew
that myself and other members
of The Robot Group would be
able to help out with the wiring,
programming, radio control, and
other robotic aspects of the
droid, it would take a specific
kind of experience and skill
to create the movie-accurate
mechanical “skeleton” of R2. We
would need to find an expert for
that. Luckily, we knew just where
A LONG TIME AGO ...
I FNARAABWRAOYW.S..ER FAR,
C SOAMN’ETODNOE . W.. HFOINCDAN!
for an R2-D2 robot.” At that point, I
knew he was hooked!
Flash forward a few years
(decades?) and I somehow ended up
as the president of The Robot Group,
Inc., a very active art and technology
non-profit group. We have lots of
talented members and a history of
using our technological creations for
community outreach and technological
evangelism. Before one of our
meetings, I was rummaging around
the Internet for some clip art when I
stumbled across the R2-D2 Builders
Club (see Resources for link). They
had an amazingly active membership
and had even managed to compile a
complete set of plans that would help
someone to build their own R2-D2 unit!
I read through their message
forum with excitement and drooled
over galleries full of pictures of droids
in various stages of construction and
complete, fully-operational R2-D2
droids, as well! Creating an R2-D2
would be a perfect fit for our group,
and would also be perfectly in line
with our interest and events (not to
mention it would place a real R2
within touching distance!).
I downloaded some of the plans
and after having a closer look, my
Some of you may recall from my
previous columns, the mention of a
good friend and colleague of mine
named Rick Abbott. Rick is a talented
“old school” machinist and long-time
member of The Robot Group. He
always seems to be able to come
through with just the right parts to
make “Slot A” connect to “Tab B.”
I’ve always been a bit in awe of his
skill, so I figured the project was
probably well within his ability to do.
What I didn’t know was if building a
replica R2-D2 droid would be
something that would interest
him. When I first broached the
idea, he seemed eager to pit
his skill against the challenge.
I handed over all the web links
and the printouts I had created
from the plans and hoped for
After a few weeks, he
brought a small box to our
weekly Robot Group meeting.
He opened the box and
displayed a small, finely worked
piece of aluminum (Figure 3).
He said “this is a shoulder hub
F SOCRRMIPTF?OLLOWS ...
Typically, the form of a given
personal or industrial robot will closely
follow the parts used to create it or
the function(s) it is designed to perform.
Small experimental robots like
the Boe-Bot from Parallax or the
Hexcrawler from Crustcrawler have
no discernible cosmetic features. Their
■ FIGURE 3. Rick Abbott
showing his hand-machined
aluminum R2-D2 shoulder hub.
May 2008 79