IT Consultant builds R2D2

Stephen Milligan | The Tribune | 0 comments

One of the most well-known characters in the Star Wars saga never says a word, at least not one the audience can understand.

Brent Browning, on the other hand, may be getting the hang of understanding the little guy, from the inside out.

Browning, an IT consultant at Loganville Christian Academy, built a working, scale replica of R2-D2, the lovable astromech droid who accompanies Luke Skywalker and others on adventures in George Lucas’ successful space opera saga.

“If you’re a fan of Star Wars, which I have been since I saw the first movie at the age of 6, how can you not love R2-D2?” Browning said. “He appears in all of the Star Wars movies and in all of the main seven Star Wars movies he has saved the day at least once per movie.  No other Star Wars character has that track record.”

Browning had a practical purpose to build his own R2 unit besides just fandom, though — using it as a demonstration in science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes.

“More seriously, it’s a great project to combine a lot of technical skills and hobbies into one project with a lot of opportunities to learn new things along the way,” Browning said. “Having an R2-D2 droid as a robotics demonstration platform is a great way to engage kids in learning some of the harder aspects of what is needed in a STEM class.”

Browning’s R2 unit is quite the capable fellow.

“He’s able to ‘talk’ in his own, movie-authentic voice,” Browning said. “He can drive around and even navigate some mild terrain. His dome-shaped head fully rotates and has all of the movie-authentic lights and objects that you would expect. He’s even got a few surprises tucked away beneath his dome and body panels that he’ll open up and entertain the crowd with from time to time.”

And, of course, he’s the perfect class demonstration.

“To get him working, you first have to design his many parts and systems,” Browning said. “Those range from physical parts for his legs and body to electronic parts for his many controls and effects. Next, you have to be able to turn those designs into the actual parts themselves, which involves a lot of high-tech machining and engineering using computer-controlled machining equipment. Then you have to design the electronic components and the overall circuitry required to manipulate each part of R2’s systems. Lastly, you have to write the software to integrate the systems and control the logic functions for how R2-D2 will behave. Along the path through all of that, you utilize an amazing amount of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, which is exactly what STEM is all about.”

Browning got a jump start on building his droid with the help of other R2 builders around the world, using designs and borrowing ideas online from the community of amateur droid builders globally.

“Within that community, many of us collaborate on designing parts and troubleshooting issues so that we can eventually get to build our R2-D2 units,” Browning said. “Even with all of that, you should expect to spend at least six months studying and designing and over a year to build a fully working droid. There are some shortcuts that you could take if you wanted R2-D2 to do a little less or be constructed from less accurate materials, but once you start building him, it quickly becomes a journey to perfecting him.”

And Browning is still tinkering with his R2-D2, whether in class with the kids or on his own.

“Well, R2 is always demonstrating new skills in the latest Star Wars movies so there are still attachments and features to add to him,” Browning said. “He tries to have something new to show each time people meet him.”