Inspired by BB-8, one Maker is bringing some Star Wars magic of his own to life with a ball-balancing robot.
It didn’t take long for everyone (ourselves included) to fall in love with JJ Abrams’s adorable new BB-8 droids, who have stolen much of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens spotlight even before hitting theaters. As you can imagine, countless fans are already counting down the days before the arrival of what will surely be a holiday best-selling robot toy this year. However, instead of waiting, a number of Makers like James Burton have decided to take it into their own hands by devising fully-functioning replicas.
Whereas the actual character is comprised of two separate parts (a remote-controlled body and a separately remote-controlled head), Burton’s latest project consists of a balancing robot that sits atop a 500mm diameter polysyrene ball serving as its body. This lightweight material gives more relative inertia, and therefore, stability for the droid positioned on top.
As seen when the robotic creature made its debut on stage in Anaheim, the “real” BB-8 features a robotic ball for its body with an independently-moving head that doesn’t fall off, which is clearly the work of physics and maybe some magnets?
And this Maker has taken a somewhat similar approach. Gyroscopes and accelerometers from SparkFun are tasked with maintaining the ball-balancing robot’s equilibrium. Meanwhile, the Maker has employed an Arduino Pro Mini 5V (ATmega328), a couple motor drivers, a few DC motors, a level shifter, and of course, a set of omni wheels for multi-directional movement. These components are all mounted to a 3D-printed chassis and housed inside a 300mm acrylic hemisphere.
With that working well, he also tried to make it remote-controlled. This required the addition of an RC receiver along with another Arduino that offsets the gyro value to make it roll in one direction. For a while, BB-8 was only capable of running on carpet; however, as you can imagine when trying to demonstrate the project at shows and other conventions, carrying around a small piece of rug could be quite tedious. So in an effort to solve this problem, Burton improved his design with some trial-and-error by adding ball bearings inside the hollow sphere, thereby emulating the slowness of carpet.
With a little more 3D printing for additional details, such as its eyes, and some airbrushing of its exterior, Burton was just about complete with his impressive project — that is at least, until he begins a second version. For those of you who are familiar with this Maker’s work, it should come as no surprise that he has put together an extremely elaborate playlist of steps, which you can find below. Interested? You can find the project and its entire code on Github.