Starting a new category for a modest little project. Actually, it’s not so modest. In fact, it kind of scares me to death.
Being a TechShop member and having access to all the amazing tools (as well as the brain trust represented by the membership there), I’ve decided to very definitely bite off more than I can chew and establish a multi-year project. You can probably tell by the title what it is. Yes, I’m going to join the ranks of the supernerds and attempt what is commonly referred to as “the Everest of Fandom”. Building a full-scale, movie accurate (down to .001″), fully electronic, R/C controlled R2D2. There aren’t many fan-made ones in existence, and some of them have actually found their way into the upcoming J.J. Abrahams sequels.
Artoo will look, and sound, exactly like the ones in the movies. Moreover, I’ve decided to go the full-monty and make it out of milled and machined aluminum. No (or very little) wood or plastic (except where needed). I’ll attempt to purchase as few parts as I can, instead opting to use the project as an opportunity to learn machining and metalworking (not to mention electronics and programming). I’ll document as much of the project here as I can. So strap in for a rather interesting, frustrating, and long-term ride!
How long? Well, I’ve divided the project up into five parts:
Step 1. The Body:
this includes the frame and support structure for the main ‘trash can’ center body. I’ll need to learn industrial design software (Inventor: learning in progress!) as well as metal lathe and mill, CNC mill, and WaterJet (which, since I teach this last one at TechShop, isn’t a problem). Estimated completion time (ECT): 1 year.
Step 2. Dome and Skin:
the, er, dome and skin. I’ll be purchasing the dome since the shape is so difficult to make, and impossible to make out of aluminum unless you have access to industrial hydro-forming machinery and four-access high-powered aluminum CNC lasers (alas, I don’t). The skin will also probably be outsourced since getting the curve right is next to impossible without special tools. I could fabricate it on the waterjet (an expensive risk), but if I messed up the calculations on the rolling procedure (to get it to fit the 18″ diameter body), I’d spend more than just buying the skin outright. Or I could cut it from styrene, but the skin takes a beating. Aluminum it is. So this’ll probably be bought, too. But never fear! Just because you buy it doesn’t mean there’s no work involved. Oh, no. There’s a ton of stuff to do to get the dome and skin working, but it’s all inside (Pitman motors, spring brackets, countersunk tapped holes, etc). Estimated completion time for step 2: 6 months to 1 year.
Step 3: Legs, ankles, feet:
Again, as much out of aluminum as possible, though doing some of the support structures buried inside from wood is an easier and lighter prospect than pure aluminum. Cheaper, too. But that’s T.B.D. later on. ECT: 1 year
Step 4: Body details. AKA “greeblies”:
They’re the dozens of little details that hang off the body, head, frame, legs, etc. Each one made from milled aluminum, metal, thermoplastic, etc. Requiring vacuum forming, metalwork, woodwork, etc. ECT: 1 year
Step 5: Electronics.
The big scary one. This is the “guts” of R2. Everything to make him live. Foot motors, dome motors, slip rings, arduinos, lights, sounds, speakers, amps, and servos, servos, servos. All connected via an electronic spaghetti bowl of wiring, circuit boards, and programming. Of which I have almost zero knowledge or experience. ECT: 1 year.
So there you have it. I’ve given myself a 4-5 year deadline. Call it Christmas of 2019. I mean, a guy’s gotta have a hobby, right?
In the meantime, here’s a photo-realistic ray trace render of R2’s frame in Inventor that I’ve spent the last six weeks cobbling together. It’s based on the famous “JAG Frame” and is screen accurate down to a thousandth of an inch. Rendered in polished 6061 Aluminum (It’ll probably be anodized blue for the final but Inventor doesn’t have an anodized metal setting). (more text below the pics):
Each individual metal part was modeled in Inventor (what a titanic, awesome, comlex program), virtual holes drilled and tapped, and then all the parts were put together in an assembly to check fit and alignment. There are something like 40 individually machined parts in the frame (lots of duplicates, thankfully). When I get time in March I’ll make an attack plan and work easiest-to-hardest. I still need to go back and double check all the holes since I don’t think I modeled the early ones correctly when I was just learning the program. I’ll run the final file through a flight check before I water jet cut the parts just to make sure they’re right. Oh, and I have to do a “hole test” on the waterjet to see what tolerances that tool is capable of. I suspect it’ll handle through holes just fine but I may be drilling and tapping the threaded holes in the traditional manner (mill, lathe, etc).
Still have to make a list that determines which parts I cut on the waterjet ($) and which ones are traditionally machined (free but I have zero experience with that…. yet). Doing it myself will take much longer but I figure I can get the frame done for a few hundred dollars.
Really excited — and much more than a little intimidated– by this project.
Why do it? If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand. 🙂 Fortunately, 100% of the people I’ve told about it so far have said “COOL!” and can’t wait to see it. I’ve avoided telling other folks because they’d either say “why spend so much money?” or “that’s too hard” or some such depressing, short-sighted, and defeatest thing. If I’m going to actually finish this monster of a project I’ll need to surround myself with as much positivity as possible. So, please, if you think it’s a silly project, I humbly welcome you to keep it to yourself. If, however, you think it’s cool, drop me an encouraging line every so often! I’ll probably need it.
I’m greatly heartened, though, by Erin’s reaction. She saw the photo renders of the frame and heard me say “I must be crazy for trying this”. She immediately said “Oh! I can’t wait to talk to my very own R2! I had a little remote control toy growing up I used to chase Sandy [her dog] around with. It was fun!”. So if you really need an answer, that’s a big part of it. I have an awesome wife.