Inspiration From Droids of Star Wars

Today is the fourth day of the month of May, which has grown into “Star Wars day” due to “May the Fourth” sounding like that film’s popular parting line “may the Force be with you.” A quick search confirmed I’ve never explicitly said anything about Star Wars on this blog and that should be corrected.

By the time I saw Star Wars, I had already been exposed to popular science fiction concepts like space travel, interstellar commerce, and gigantic super-weapons. And the idea of a cult that promises to make their followers more special than regular people… we certainly didn’t need science fiction for that. So none of those aspects of Star Wars were especially notable. What left a lasting impression was R2-D2.

R2-D2 had its own expression of duty and loyalty. Companion to humans, and a Swiss Army knife on wheels. A character that managed to convey personality without words or a face. R2-D2 was the most novel and compelling character for me in the film. I wouldn’t go far as to say R2-D2 changed the path of my life, but there has definitely been an influence. More than once I’ve thought of “does this help me get closer to building my own R2” when deciding what to study or where to focus.

I was happy when I discovered there’s an entire community of people who also loved the astromech droid and banded together to build their own. But that turned to disappointment when I realized the dominant approach in that community was focused on the physical form. Almost all of these were remote-controlled robots under strict control of a nearby human puppeteer, and little effort was put into actually building a capable and autonomous loyal teammate.

I can’t criticize overly much, as my own robots have yet to gain any sort of autonomy, but that is still the ultimate long-term goal. I love the characters of R2-D2 and the follow-on BB-8 introduced in the newest trilogy. Not in their literal shape, but in the positive role they imagined for our lives. This distinction is sometimes confusing to others… but it’s crystal clear to me.

Oh, I thought you loved Star Wars.

Star Wars is fine, but what I actually love are the droids.

I still hope the idea becomes reality in my lifetime.

Industrial Glass Marbles

I remember playing with glass marbles as a child’s toy. I also remember mom being not terribly pleased when she would find them in various corners of the house, and definitely unhappy when some were on the floor where an adult might step on one and fall.

I also remember the swirls of color that were added to the glass to make them look prettier, and those are absent from industrial glass marbles. They have a job to do, and they don’t need to look pretty doing it. Not only do they lack the colorful swirl, they don’t even necessarily need to be perfectly spherical or have smooth exterior surfaces. I hadn’t known about these glass marbles with jobs until I learned of an overturned truck accident that was very difficult to clean up because its cargo were a full load of industrial marbles.

Curious, I read up on industrial glass marbles and how they are employed. I was excited when I learned that they are commonly used inside aerosol spray cans to stir its contents. They are what rattles when we shake up a can before spraying. I consumed several spray cans of Plasti-Dip for my RX-BB-8 project and saved the cans planning to cut into them to look at some industrial marbles up close. I finally got around to that particular project.

Clamp to release remaining pressure

Even though they’ve stopped delivering dip, these cans still had some propellent inside delivering pressure. It seemed wise to relieve that pressure before we cut into the can, so I used a clamp to keep the top pressed and waited until the hissing stopped.

Drill into can for industrial glass marble

A hole is then drilled in the can for a starting spot, where pliers can dig in and start tearing up the thin metal shell. It only takes a few rips to open a hole large enough for the marble to see the light of day.

Industrial glass marble extracted

A little cleanup later, I had my first look at a cosmetically imperfect but still fascinating industrial glass marble.

Industrial glass marble x3

I had several other empty spray cans which underwent the same procedure for marble extraction. I was fascinated by the surface texture of the first one I extracted, it gave the glass sphere more character than a perfectly smoothly counterpart. I plan to explore putting them in front of LEDs so their flaws can be part of a distinctive light diffuser.

I do not consider those glass imperfections of industrial glass marbles to be bug — I believe they have potential to be very unique features!

Sawppy at Brawerman East STEAM Makers Fair

Sawppy’s publicity appearance today was at Brawerman East STEAM Makers Fair, a supercharged science fair at a private elementary school. Sawppy earned this invitation by the way of January presentation at Robotics Society of Southern California. The intent is to show students that building things is more than their assignments at their on campus Innovation Lab, there are bigger projects they can strive for beyond the classroom. But the format is, indeed, just like a school science fair, where Sawppy got a display table and a poster board.

Brawerman STEAM Makers Fair - Sawppy on table

But Sawppy is not very interesting sitting on a table, it didn’t take long before the rover started roving amongst other exhibits. The school’s 3D printer is visible on the left – a Zortrax M200.

Brawerman STEAM Makers Fair - Sawppy roaming

Sawppy was not the only project from grown-ups present. I admire the ambition of this laser cutter project undertaken by one of the parents. Look at the size of that thing. It is currently a work in progress, and its incomplete wiring were completely removed for this event so little fingers are not tempted to unplug things and possibly plugging them in a wrong place.

Brawerman STEAM Makers Fair - laser cutter

The center of this tables had some old retired electronics equipment that kids will be able to take apart. This was a huge hit at the event, but by the end of the night this side of the room was a huge mess of tiny plastic pieces scattered all over.

Brawerman STEAM Makers Fair - deconstruction zone

I brought my iPad with the idea I could have Sawppy’s Onshape CAD data visible for browsing, but it turned out the iOS Onshape app required a live internet connection and refused to work from cache. As an alternate activity, I rigged it up to show live video footage from Sawppy’s onboard camera. This was surprisingly popular with the elementary school age crowd, who got a kick out of making faces at the camera and seeing their faces on the iPad. I need to remember to do this for future Sawppy outings.

Brawerman STEAM Makers Fair - Sawppy camera ipad

After Sawppy was already committed to the event, I learned that a Star Wars themed art car was also going to be present. So I mentioned my #rxbb8 project which earned me a prime parking spot on the first floor next to the far more extensively modified “Z-Wing.” Prepare to jump to hyperspace!

rxbb8zwingcropped

(Cross-posted to Hackaday.io)

SevenStock 20

Today was SevenStock 20 and I attended with my RX-8 in her BB-8 Halloween costume. Last year I attended SevenStock with the costume only partially completed. This year it is complete but a little faded from running around over the past year under SoCal sunshine. It was still plenty distinctive in the row of RX-8 lined up in the show & display area. Many people took pictures, some even took me up on my hint and posted on Instagram tagged with #rxbb8.

Out of all the cars on display, the one that stood out to me was ironically not a rotary-powered vehicle at all. It was a Mazda R360, Mazda’s first car built in 1960. By modern standards an adorable tiny little thing. It was on display at the Mazda corporate area along with other Mazda vehicle currently on the market. Which meant the little 1960 Mazda was utterly dwarfed by the modern Mazda SUVs on display.

Mazda R360 Next To Current Mazda SUVs

There were many powerful speed machines on display, but I kept coming back to admire the little R360 that can barely reach highway speed. There are four seats in the car but I don’t see how four adults can fit in this little box. It looked closer in size to a kid’s Power Wheels car!


SevenStock takes place on the infield of the Auto Club Speedway and the track itself was open during the event for people who paid a fee and can pass safety inspection. There was a sizable contingent who love the idea of driving out on the oval but for one reason or another passed on the high-speed track time.

This year the organizers tried an experiment: a “parade lap” to get a taste of driving on a banked oval via a bit of token track time. The thundering herd was led by the trio of historical rotary-power race cars brought by Mazda, and we stopped a few times on track for the scattered pack to organize. Here’s a picture taken during one of the on-track stops.

Rotaries On Track

The price of admission for the “parade lap” was $15, and I thought it was well worth it for the novelty value of taking my car on a real high-speed track. Even if we were only going at city-street speeds.