These Are The Droid Controllers You’ve Been Looking For

When I was in the 4th grade our teacher announced that we had a special guest visiting us from somewhere “Far, far away…” As we piled out of the classroom and into to the courtyard, my jaw hit the floor – It was R2D2! The droid started to move around, and made all the noises like the movie. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. R2D2 was real, and he was right in front of me! (My young mind made the conclusion that if R2D2 was real, then all of Star Wars was real.) I had to turn around to see my friends’ reactions. Unfortunately, it’s at that moment, I saw a middle-aged man, holding a RC transmitter, with antenna extended, standing in the background operating the controls. Sigh. R2 wasn’t real – it’s just a remote-controlled robot. My dreams of becoming a Jedi were forever crushed.

[Chris James] of the R2 Builders Club has been working hard to make a pair of “Stealth RC” controllers to help keep the magic of R2D2 intact.  These dual joystick, 3D printed, hand-held units can be easily hidden in the palm of your hand, or the front pockets of a loose jacket while you operate them. Loaded with features, these tiny controllers use XBee radios to talk to a receiver and custom PCB inside the droid, that in turn, can then control dozens of servos, motors, sound playback and more. Because some R2D2 builds will have dozens and dozens of functions, rather than have a button for each one, [Chris] has programmed in gesture controls in to the unit, so that two controllers and can control several dozen preprogrammed actions. [Chris] hasn’t finalized the design just yet – he still calls it a “beta” build, but so far his documentation is outstanding (PDF) – some of the best we’ve seen.

You can learn more about the R2 Builders Club and the controllers in the video after the break

34 thoughts on “These Are The Droid Controllers You’ve Been Looking For

  1. Good project!

    As an alternative you can get keyring sized bluetooth game controllers for about $5 each which should work well for this type of thing, I assume with a bit of messing with software you could hook two up to something.

    They don’t have any gesture control, or sound, but the analog stick works well enough
    (seller untested)

    1. One of the downsides to a Bluetooth connections is limited range. With these and their Xbee communication (either 2.4ghz or 900mhz options are available), the range is more than one would probably ever need. That is important when we are trying to wrangle a 200+ pound droid in the often crowded space of a convention or show.

      1. re: BT range, the absolute maximum I’ve gotten with an Xbox 360 pad and a PCB antenna on the reciever was 100 feet, unimpeded line of sight, outdoors. so yeah. 2.4GHz Proprietary or Wifi would be able to amp up the power and have a more capable antenna. I can’t speak to 900MHz, never having used it

          1. Ciseco XRF, pin compatable with the Xbee, I got 3.4km from their 1st gen models with standard antenna running at 868khz, and easy 1km+ from the subsequent model. The power consumption is also very good.

      2. Yeah the bluetooth ones are probably around 10m range and the same room. Even class 1 (100m) I’ve never had much luck with reliable BT outside of the same room.

        900Mhz is illegal in the UK, a lot of 3G/4G mobile services use it. We do have 433Mhz though.

        Though I do wonder how far you’d get out of a tiny transmitter like this surrounded by a fleshy hand.

      1. I don’t know what being gay has to do with anything, the fact is that parents are protective of children, sometimes to a fault. Acting suspiciously or even sometimes just being around children is often a bad idea. Being branded a nonce is not something to be taken lightly or messed around with, there are plenty of cases where the public has acted against people who often were accused with no basis or evidence.
        These are not my views they are facts, i don’t appreciate being called an idiot for pointing them out.

          1. Well if you want my opinion i would say that as a society we are too eager to punish anyone with an interest in children. As long as no child is interfered with then what is the problem with anyone, even dare i suggest a pedophile, enjoying watching children playing outside or such. A child molester clearly needs help, not to be threatened and acted upon violently.
            I would also say i’m quite surprised at how quick Fennec was to distance himself from being identified as a child molester, the gay community should understand better than anyone what it’s like to be outcast because of sexual preference.

          1. Kenny Baker and Hervé Villechaize had a bit of a feud going because Hervé wouldn’t join Kenny’s Little People of America organization and wanted to be called a midget rather than a dwarf or little person.

      1. NZ has a much lower average height than America, I think, so that could work. We’ll start shipping you our <=165 cms peoples in trade for Big Red chewing gum, yus. :D

          1. Oh, okay. Maybe I’m just short, then. :c

            I also live in Auckland, where in the central city areas about 1/3rd of the population is Asian. (Yay, yay. Diversity!)

    1. It’s a constant source of debate for some of the builders. The end result of the conversation is, sure, maybe in a lab or large home setting, but nobody has come close to claiming their autonomous R2 would be even remotely safe in a convention environment. All those toes…. And god forbid R2 gets near an escalator.

  2. I have this system along with the Auto Dome add on for my Artoo build and it is an amazing feature rich solution that meets the current needs of my droid as well as offers expandability for whatever the future holds in its development.

  3. Those are cool little remotes but if you wanted a smaller remote you could use the little $2 Nordic nRF24L01+ modules. These are (a lot) less expensive and smaller than XBees. The nRF24L01+ modules aren’t as easy to use as XBees. I imagine the XBee makes up a good chunk of the remote’s BOM costs.

    I think the remote needs a small display. One of the advantages to using a transceiver in a robot is you can get telemetry back from the robot. That little remote has room for a small OLED or other display. He could check the battery state with the display and R2 could let him know in which cell the Princess is being held by sending a message to the display.

    A really easy way to get a small remote is to use a wireless Wii Nunchuck. Getting a microcontroller to communicate with a Wii Nunchuck is pretty simple. A Wii Nunchuck is not as small as the droid remote but it would fit in a jacket pocket. A Nunchuck only has two buttons but you can have the buttons do different things depending on the orientation of the Nunchuck. The accelerometer in the Nunchuck can be used as additional channels of input (I’ve flown a RC helicopter with a Nunchuck).

    My Halloween Hex uses a wireless Nunchuck as a controller.

    I posted some additional information about the controller in the Parallax Robotics Forum.

    Another plus to a wireless Wii Nunchuck is kids already know how to use it. If you want to let other people control your robot, a Nunchuck is a controller many people are already familiar with.

    I’m all for making a custom controllers, and these droid controllers are great, but if someone wanted an off-the-shelf-solution, a wireless Wii Nunchuck is a good option.

    1. There are a couple of Droids controlled by the nunchuck. I’m preparing the Shadow system for my Chopper build. It uses the Ps3 Navigation controller. The draw back to video game controllers is that they are familiar. People (children especially) will want to try driving the droid. These things are dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced operator. I ran myself over more than once with K-9 and it was painful. I’d never let anyone drive my bots other than another experienced builder.

  4. Ugh, I am so dissapoint! I was hoping it was from far far away, and an overweight green ogre that talked like big fat bastarhd was there! DONKEY! ITS CALLED FAR FAR AWAY BECAUSE IT IS FAR FAR AWAY!

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