Back when a new Star Wars movie was announced it was made very clear by the filmmakers that it was important to them that they honored the aesthetic and the lived-in world that the first trilogy inhabited. Despite the buckets of money that fans threw at them, there were many who were pretty unhappy with the prequels. Regardless of the actual content of the movies, due to an overuse of CGI and green screen effect, the films really haven’t aged all that well. So from the start, the director of the new movie, JJ Abrams, assured fans that he would be using as much practical and traditional special effects as he possibly could. The fanbase was skeptical, as you would imagine, but it seems as if any worry melted away the minute that an orange and white spherical astrometric droid named BB-8 rolled into our lives.
When Star Wars nerds got a look at BB-8 in the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer last year it was clearly love at first bleep for just about everyone. The filmmakers and Disney, which purchased the Star Wars rights from George Lucas for a few billion dollars, were perfectly aware of how much fans would like him. With the unique, and almost silly design of a rolling sphere-shaped body with his half-dome head perched on top of it, BB-8 could have come straight from a kid’s drawing. But he was a real, working robot that rolled on to the set, filmed with and interacted with the cast and basically felt as if he was actually alive.
With the film only a few days away we’ll soon know if the new movie lives up to the piles of hype, and Disney merchandising push, but one thing will be certain. Regardless of how the movie turns out, it’s going to be pretty hard to make fans not like BB-8 afterwards. Video game programmer and software engineer JR Bédard was clearly just as smitten with BB-8 as the rest of us, because he decided that he just had to have one of his own.
And he didn’t want the wobbly, mini versions that are already sold in stores, he wanted to design and build his own. His version of BB-8 is completely 3D printed, hand painted and is powered by a simple Arduino-based robotic platform. Bédard never managed to crack the rolling ball thing, so he put his version of BB-8 on a pair of self-balancing wheels–the kind on those hoverboards that aren’t really hoverboards that have been catching on fire lately–and controls him with a basic RC controller. Bédard’s BB-8 also makes authentic sounds and beeps, and contains several programmable LEDs to complete the effect.
Bédard designed his BB-8 droid in SketchUp and then 3D printed him on his two Dremel Idea Builder 3D printers. He used about two hundred meters of white PLA filament to print all of BB-8’s various parts, which took a little over fifty hours to print. The white PLA is painted with orange and metallic nail polish rather than paint, and the large black eye on BB-8’s head is actually made from a Christmas ornament.
“You may ask ‘why doesn’t it roll?’ Well, it’s only the first version where I was looking for an easy way to make it move. The next version will roll and keep its head on top with a system of self-orienting magnets,” Bédard told me via email.
You can see some video of Bédard’s BB-8 droid in action here:
This 3D printing project is about as home built as a scratch-made robot project can get, and it looks, sounds and works pretty great considering the design alterations. In order to control his robot, Bédard used a basic remote controller that allows him to operate the robot using an Arduino RF connection. The robotic platform that he used to make everything work together is a Sainsmart instabot V3 and the LED’s are Adafruit NeoPixels. Bédard controls BB-8’s head and makes it move back and forth using a micro servo being actuated by the Arduino. You can learn more about Bédard and see more of his cool 3D printing projects over on his website, and check out his 3D printed house in a frame here. Discuss this design in the 3D Printed Star Wars Droid forum on 3DPB.com.
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