Chewbacca Mask Hack Cheers Up The Whining Wookie

Once tried, even grown-ups just can’t let go of that hilariously funny Chewbacca mask. Also, the speaking toy literally cries out to be hacked. Weary of the whining Wookie, [John Park] set out to bring variety into Chewie’s mode of expression, expanding the mask’s memory and vocabulary to unprecedented levels.

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Easy Toy Hack Makes Floating Death Star

It always seems odd to us that magnetic levitation seems to only find use in big projects (like trains) and in toys. Surely there’s a practical application that fits on our desktop. This isn’t it, but it is a cool way to turn a cheesy-looking levitating globe into a pretty cool Star Wars desk toy.

As projects go, this isn’t especially technically challenging, but it is a great example of taking something off the shelf and hacking it into something else. The globe covering came off, revealing two hemispheres. A circular hole cut out and inverted provides the main weapon. Some internal lighting and small holes provide light. Some fiber optic sanded and tinted green make the weapon fire. The rest is all in the painting.

There’s even a tiny imperial ship orbiting the killer man-made (or is that Sith-made) moon. If you want a bigger challenge, you might try bamboo. Or you can go minimalist and let your eyes and brain do most of the work.

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Drones, Clever Hacks, and CG Come Together For Star Wars Fan Film

We weren’t certain if this Star Wars fan film was out kind of thing until we saw the making of video afterwards. They wanted to film a traditional scene in a new way. The idea was to take some really good quadcopter pilots, give them some custom quadcopters, have them re-enact a battle in a scenic location, and then use some movie magic to bring it all together.

The quadcopters themselves are some of those high performance racing quadcopters with 4K video cameras attached. The kind of thing that has the power to weight ratio of a rocket ship. Despite what the video implies, they are unfortunately not TIE Fighter shaped. After a day of flying and a few long hikes to retrieve the expensive devices after inevitable crashes (which, fortunately, provided some nice footage), the next step was compositing.

However, how to trick the viewer into believing they were in a X-Wing quadcopter? A cheap way to do it would be to spend endless hours motion tracking and rendering a cockpit in place. It won’t look quite real. The solution they came up with is kind of dumb and kind-of brilliant. Mount a 3D printed cockpit on a 2×4 with a GoPro. Play the flight footage on a smartphone while holding the contraption. Try to move the cockpit in the same direction as the flight. We’re not certain if it was a requirement to also make whooshing and pew pew laser noises while doing so, but it couldn’t hurt.

In the end it all came together to make a goofy, yet convincingly good fan film. Nice work! Videos after the break.

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How BB-8 Works Revealed At Star Wars Celebration Europe

Finally the workings of the official BB-8 that you’ve seen rolling around at various events have been revealed. Its makers [Matt Denton] and [Josh Lee] participated in an hour-long presentation at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 just this past week where the various views of its internals were shown in action. It’s since had BB-8 builders (yours truly included) analyzing the workings for new ideas. We also now have the official name for it, red carpet BB-8.

For the first half of their talk they went over how BB-8 was implemented for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As we’ve long known this was done using 7 puppeted BB-8’s, though it was revealed that only 4 were actually used, including a stationary one called the wiggler whose purpose you can guess. Another thing we didn’t know is that they did consider building a working BB-8 for filming but decided they needed something bullet proof, that would work right every time without making a film crew wait for repairs, and so went with the puppets instead.

The second half of their talk contained the big reveal, the mechanism inside red carpet BB-8’s ball. It turns out to be pretty close to what many builders have been doing. If you’ve seen the DIYer’s guide to the different BB-8 drive systems then you’ll understand when we say it’s a pendulum drive (aka axle drive). That is, there’s a motorized axle that crosses the middle of the ball and the ball rotates on that axle. Meanwhile a large mass suspended below the axle acts as the pendulum mass.

BB-8 builders have known the importance of keeping as much mass as possible as low down as possible for stability, but it was revealed the great extent to which that has been done in the red carpet version. Motors for the head’s pitch and yaw are located at the bottom and their motion is transferred up to the center using what are maybe best known as bicycle brake cables. Another big reveal was a linear actuator for the body roll, tilting the center stuff with respect to the mass lower down. The actuator itself is located in the lower section. Also, BB-8 builders have been mounting the drive motors for rotating the ball with respect to the axle, in line with the axle. However, in red carpet BB-8 the motor is also at the bottom and its motion appears to be transferred up to the axle via belt and worm gears. You may mistake the gold cylinders on either side of the central gimbal system to be motors but they’re actually Moflon slip rings.

Those are just a few of the insights gained so far from analyzing the video below. Doubtless people will be noticing a lot more in the weeks to come.

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Driving BB-8: More Than One Way to Move this Bot

BB-8 is the much loved new droid introduced in the 2016 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though in my case from the very first trailer released in 2014 I liked it for the interesting engineering problems it posed. How would you make a robot that’s a ball that rolls along, but with a head that stays on top while the ball rolls under it?

To make the ball roll, the answer most people found obvious at first was to use the analogy of a hamster wheel. The hamster running inside makes the wheel turn. In the BB-8 building world, which is quite large, the drive mechanism has come to be called a hamster drive, or just a hamster.

Magnets holding the head on
Magnets holding the head on

For the head, it seemed obvious that there would be magnets inside the ball, perhaps held in place near the top of the ball by a post extending up from the hamster. Corresponding magnets in attraction would then be attached to the underside of the head, and balls (also mounted under the head) would keep the head moving smoothly over the ball.

The magnet approach for the head has turned out to be the method used by all BB-8 builders that I’ve seen. However, the hamster has turned out to be only one of multiple solutions. Since the original debut many different methods have been used in builds and we’re going to have a lot of fun looking at each separate approach. It’s almost like revealing a magic trick; but really it’s all just clever engineering.

Note that for the actual movie, a combination of 7 or 8 props and CGI were used. The official working BB-8s that are shown at various promotional events were built after the movie was made and as of this writing, few details of their construction have been released. One notable detail, however, is that they aren’t using hamster drives.

Below are details of all the different BB-8 drive systems I’ve seen so far that have been built along with how they work.

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That’s No Moon – That’s a Bamboo Death Star

At first glance, [Frank Howarth]’s turned bamboo Death Star seems like a straight woodworking project. No Arduino controlled lights, no Raspberry Pi for audio clips of an X-wing attack or escaping TIE fighter. In other words: where’s the hack?

It’s a freaking bamboo Death Star!

If that’s not enough for you, check out the pattern on the surface of the finished model. That’s not painted on – those are the layers of the laminated bamboo lumber used to create the rings [Frank] used to form the structure. After lots of turning, sanding and polishing, the characteristic vascular bundles of the bamboo create light and dark panels for a convincing effect of the Death Star’s surface detail. And although we like the natural finish, we can imagine a darker stain might have really made the details pop and made for an effect closer to the original.

Still not hackish enough? Then feast your eyes on [Frank]’s shop. It’s a cavernous space with high ceilings, tons of natural light, and seemingly every woodworking machine known to man. While the lathe and tablesaw do a lot of the work for this build, the drool-worthy CNC router sees important duty in the creation of the multiple jigs needed for the build, and for making the cutout for the superlaser, in what must have been a tense moment.

Bamboo is an incredible material, whether for fun builds like this or for more structural uses, like a bamboo bike. All this bamboo goodness puts us in the mood to call on [Gerrit Coetzee] for a new installment on his “Materials You Should Know” series.

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Perfecting The DIY BB-8

Until about a year ago, the Droid Builder’s Club had just about everything figured out to build any sort of robot from Star Wars. Building an R2D2 clone was easy, and even R5 and R6 droids were common. There were even a few attempts to clone IG-88. Then Disney happened, The Force Awakens was released, and the world was introduced to the hero of the third trilogy, BB-8. Several people have gone to incredible lengths to replicate BB-8 as a unique homebrew robot, but no one has put in more effort than [James Bruton]. He’s wrapping up his third DIY version of BB-8.

[James]’ third version of the BB-8 droid has two older brothers we’ve seen before. [James] started the construction of his earliest BB-8 not long after the trailer for The Force Awakens, and long before we knew the makers of Sphero robot toys weren’t behind this hero puppet. Since then, a number of improvements have been made to the drive system, allowing the third version of [James]’ BB-8 to turn on a dime and roll just like its on-screen counterpart.

Right now, [James] is about 80% done with his newest droid, with just a bit extra circuitry to have all the functionality seen on the ‘real’ stage droid. Like most of the R2D2 builds out there, there might be enough room inside this droid for some additional capabilities. There appears to be enough space behind one of the body panels for an extending arm, making the possibility of a flamethrower thumbs up very real.

[James] is also one of the judges for this year’s Hackaday Prize, and will (hopefully) be at this year’s Hackaday Prize award ceremony and Hackaday SuperConference in San Francisco. If a set of highly likely probabilities pans out, [James]’ BB-8 will also be at the con, and we’ll see it careening down that one weird block of Lombard Street. Awesome.

Entire playlist for the build of BB-8 v.3 below. Pictures are available here.

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