The Build: Making Your Own Droid

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Photo by Kevin Shirley
Photo by Kevin Shirley

If you roam around the Marriott at any time during Dragon Con, you’ll invariably run into at least one R2-D2, BB-8, and/or mouse droid. They are amazing feats of construction, virtually indistinguishable from what we’ve seen on the screen. The men and women who build them assembled Sunday evening in Marriott to discuss the process. Christina Cato, David Ferreira, Matt Hobbs, Mike Cummins, and Randy Nothdorf talked about everything from materials and reverse engineering to cost and the need to do one’s research.

The R2 builders club has existed since 1999. Over the course of its nearly twenty years, more than 750 droids have been constructed. A separate club dedicated to BB-8 construction started in 2015. This club is already very popular, with several thousand followers on its Facebook page. The Mouse droid builders club was founded in 2000. The panelists see the Mouse droid as a great place to start. The community of builders dedicate tremendous time and energy to accuracy in their droids. They have achieved this to such a degree that most of the droids you see on the screen (commercials, etc) are theirs.

In many ways, budget will drive the decisions a droid builder has to make. You can invest anywhere from a few hundred up to thousands of dollars in one of these projects. Consider materials as an example. Builders can choose from styrene, wood, fiberglass, aluminum, and/or 3D-printed resins. The costs associated with each vary but the use of 3D-printed materials, a major force in the future of droid construction (especially BB-8), does have significant budget implications.

In addition to budget, experience level is also a factor to consider. Experience and cost came together in an interesting way when the panel turned to a discussion of controllers. Being able to operate a droid remotely is fundamental, and a number of options are available. For those on a budget, one option is a PS2 controller. As one builder pointed out: using a PlayStation controller was both familiar to him and economical. He could get one “off the shelf.”  The larger issue of electronics is a critical consideration for any build. Once again, the panel recommended you (a) budget yourself and (b) do your research!

The panel was unanimous in emphasizing the need for anyone considering a build to study first and to recognize that this kind of project takes time, anywhere from 1 to 3 years! There are a number of Facebook pages dedicated to each type of droid construction and the panel recommends you start there. You can learn more by visiting www.astromech.net (R2 builders), www.BB8builders.club, or www.MouseDroidBuilders.club. As the hour ended Christina Cato summed it up:  “There will be crying.”  “You will want to quit.” In the end, however, droid building “is addictive.”  It is also, obviously, quite satisfying.

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