BB-8 is real! But how did they do it?

BB-8 the new droid in the star wars franchise made his first public appearance (YouTube link) at Star Wars Celebration last week. While cast and crew of the movie have long said that BB-8 is real, seeing it up on stage, driving circles around R2D2 takes things to a whole new level. The question remains, how exactly does it work?

new petOur (and probably any other tech geek worth their salt’s) immediate reaction was to think of xkcd’s “New Pet” comic. All the way back in 2008, [Randall Munroe] suggested omnidirectional wheels and magnets could be used to create exactly this kind of ‘bot. Is this what’s going on inside BB-8? No one knows for sure, but that won’t stop us from trying to figure it out!

BB-8’s family tree may actually start with Sphero. Fortune reports  that Sphero was part of Disney’s accelerator program in 2014. Each company in the accelerator program gets a mentor from Disney. Sphero’s mentor was Disney CEO Bob Iger himself.

The Head

So if BB-8’s body is based on a Sphero, how does the head work? The Disney crew has been mum on this so far, but there is plenty of speculation! If you watch the video in HD, several flashes can be seen between the body and head gap. These might be status LEDs on BB-8’s electronics, but they could also be IR LEDs – possibly part of an optical mouse style sensor. Sensor fusion between gyroscopes, accelerometers and the optical flow sensors would make for a robust solution to the inverted pendulum problem presented by BB-8’s head.

How do you think BB-8 works? Is it magnets, motors, or The Force? Let us know in the comments!

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Wrapping Up The Last Midwest RepRap Festival

The Midwest RepRap Festival is over – forever. This was the last one. Apparently enough people complained that Goshen, Indiana wasn’t in the midwest. The number of Dairy Queens I passed contradicts this, but whatever. Next year, there’s going to be a different con in Goshen. Same content, different name. If you have a suggestion, you know where to put it.

I promised the world’s largest 3D printed trash can, and I gave you the world’s largest 3D printed trash can. This gigantic orange vase was printed on the PartDaddy, SeeMeCNC’s 18-foot tall delta printer a few months ago at the NYC Maker Faire. I have been using this as a trash can in my basement since then, making me one of the only people who have their trash can on Wikipedia.

A failed print on Saturday morning

Speaking of the PartDaddy, this is what a fail looks like. The first PartDaddy print was a Groot, a 13-hour long print job. It was left running overnight, but it ran out of PLA pellets sometime around 4 in the morning. If you’re wondering what the black band is around the Groot’s face is, here’s the breakdown:

The PartDaddy sucks PLA pellets up from a trash can (that’s not 3D printed), and dispenses it into a hopper above the print head. This hopper was 3D printed on the PartDaddy, and there is still a little bit of colarant dust in there. When the PLA pellets run out, that dust is embedded in the extrusion. When you realize that masterbatch is only about 5% of the finished plastic, it doesn’t take much black dust to discolor a print.

Yes, this is a print fail that could have been fixed by having an all-night bash. A few other people left their printers running overnight including [The Great Fredini] and his Scan-A-Rama. This was a Rostock Max that had something wonky happen with the Bowden. There was filament everywhere.

How about some Star Wars droids? An R2 from the Droid Builder’s Club was there, but there was also the beginnings of a completely 3D printed Roger. While we’re on the subject of plastic robots that will fall apart at a moment’s notice, there was a K’NEX 3D printer. Yes, it’s made almost entirely out of K’NEX, and it did work at one time. Those orange parts sitting next to it? Those came out of the K’NEX printer.  If you’re looking for the definitive RepStrap, there ‘ya go.



For the last few months, metal filaments – PLA with tiny particles of copper, brass, bronze, iron, or aluminum have been available. MRRF was the first place where you could see them all together. A few things of note: these filaments are heavy – the printed objects actually feel like they’re made out of metal. They’re actually metal, too: the iron-based filaments had a tiny bit of red corrosion, and the Lincoln death mask above was treated with acetic acid. These filaments are also expensive, around $100 for 1kg. Still, if you want to print something that will be around in 100 years, this is what you should get.

The most beautiful printer ever

MRRF should have had a contest for the best looking 3D printer at the show. A beautiful delta from Detroit Rock City would have won:


DSC_0075That white hexagon in the center is a ceramic PCB that I’m told cost an ungodly amount of money. Underneath the ceramic build plate, there’s a few Peltiers between the bed and the large copper heat sink. The heat sink is connected to the three risers by heat pipes, making the entire printer one gigantic heat sink. Why would anyone make such an amazing art deco printer? For this.

Because you can use Peltiers to heat and cool a bed, a little bit of GCode at the end of a print will cool the bed to below room temperature. If you do your design right, this means the print will just fall over when it’s done. When the print bed is cooling, you can actually hear the bond between the bed and print cracking. It’s beautiful, it’s cool, and I’m told this printer will make its way to soon.

There you go, the best and coolest from the last Midwest RepRap Festival ever. There will never be another one. It only needs a better name, and [John] at SeeMeCNC is great at coming up with names. Just ask what VIP is a backronym of.

I told you there would be a T-shirt cannon. That’s 300 PSI shop air.

R2D2 cake plays Leia’s distress message


As all 6-year-olds should, [Marc]’s son is a huge fan of Star Wars. For his birthday party, he wanted a Star Wars themed cake, and making one in the shape of R2D2 seemed to be right up [Marc]’s alley. Of course any clone of everyone’s favorite R2 unit should also display Leia’s distress message to Ben Kenobi, and [Marc] figured out a way to do just that.

Because of R2’s strange and decidedly non-cake shape, [Marc] first constructed a stand out of wood, cardboard, and a PVC pipe to hold the cake into place. The cylindrical droid body is of course made of cake and frosting, with R2’s dome made out of fondant.

The PVC pipe running up the center of the droid provided [Marc] with the ability to run a power and video connector up R2’s spine. These are connected to a small projector receiving video from a netbook placed out of the way.

You can check out a video of the R2 cake playing Leia’s holographic distress message below. At the end of the video, there’s a 6-year-old birthday party guest saying, “what is that?” It might be time to dig out the VHS player and the non-remastered trilogy, [Marc].

Hacked Interactive R2D2 controlled by Raspberry Pi


Ah R2D2. Probably one of the most recognized little robots on the planet. There have to be a hundred different toys of R2 out there, but one of the more impressive is the 30th Anniversary Interactive edition. Complete with all kinds of bells and whistles, it’s about as realistic as they come. One Star Wars fan found himself in possession of a broken Interactive R2, and with his girlfriend’s birthday coming up, decided to do a little droid surgery to create the ultimate gift.

Giving Anakin a run for his money, all the controls for this R2 unit were custom built.  A Raspberry Pi running Rasbian acts as the brain. Facial recognition was implemented using OpenCV. Voice commands in either English or Chinese were made possible by PocketSphinx. Some of the other features he included are: message recording and playback, ultrasonic distance detection, motion detection, wifi, and a rechargeable battery. Many of those features were included in the original toy, but since this unit was broken, had to be rebuilt from scratch.

In the end, it must have impressed his girlfriend – she’s now his wife. Good work Jedi. Check out some build photos and a video demonstration after the break.

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R2D2 collects Valentine’s cards like a boss


Think back to your school days when each student would make a box which would receive Valentine’s cards from their friends. We have fond memories of buying cards with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on them. We guess this tradition is still going strong. Instead of making a receptacle out of a shoe box  [Dr Franken Storer] helped his seven-year-old build this remote control R2D2 with sounds and lights. Yeah, it’s totally cheating. But who can begrudge a hacker dad a little fun?

The bot started as a desktop trash can. It features a domed top which looks just like the droid, but also has a hinged opening where the cards can be placed. To the lid he attached a tilt switch that triggers a Radio Shack sound player to provide the sounds. These sound modules are popular in a lot of projects like this doorbell hack. The final touch (aside from the droid decor on the outside) was to add a remote control car that lets his son drive R2 around.

We asked for more details and he delivered. You’ll find his lengthy description of the project after the jump.

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R2D2 drink dispenser will happily tinkle in your glass

As with Jabba the Hutt we’d like to have our own service droid to serve up a cold one. We’re in luck; it looks like you can make your very own beverage dispensing droid if you don’t mind a little awkward dispensation.

The body started as one of those big protein drink mix containers. After spraying it white and masking off the entire thing with blue painter’s tape, the shapes for the blue designs were cut out and painted. Half of a foam sphere from the hobby shop was used to form the dome.

Liquids are dispensed by the pump system from a Super Soaker motorized water gun. You can see it fill up a beaker with a mysterious blue liquid in the video after the break. It’s a long way from challenging the Bar2D2, but it’s also something a mere mortal can build

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Hackaday Links: August 21, 2011

Arduino + PS2 controller + R2D2

Here’s an unbelievably real-looking R2D2 replica driven by a PS2 controller with an Arduino inside that plays sounds from the movies. Too bad we couldn’t find any more details about it. [Thanks Bill]

Server build time-lapse

[Justin] and his colleagues spent five days upgrading their server by building a 29-unit cluster. Lucky for us they set up a web-cam to capture the process.

Cockroach computer

Behold this working desktop computer, complete with monitor and mouse. We’re not sure how it was done, or what it’s for, but worth a peek just because of its size. [Thanks Harald via Dvice]

Modelling self-assembling viruses

A 3D printer and magnets were used to build this model of a self-assembling virus. Shake the jar and it falls apart. Shake a bit more and it’ll rebuild itself… it has the technology.

Tardis cufflinks

[Simon] is exercising his geek chic with these Tardis cuff links. The Doctor Who inspired accessories were made from a model railroad telephone booth.