Feb 24, 2016 | By Kira

BB-8, the famous and much-loved roly-poly droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has become a Force all of its own. The inexplicably cute orange and white spherical robot has captured hearts around the world, and in the past few months alone, has been re-created in the form of countless meticulously crafted fan-made replicas.

The most recent and realistic of these comes from Southwest Florida’s Ed Zarick, a fire-fighter by day, and self-taught 3D printing engineer by night (or vice versa, depending on how his hectic shift schedule lines up). Since Christmas 2015, Zarick has been hard at work designing, 3D printing, and assembling full-size working Star Wars BB-8 replica, and the finished model has recently been revealed, along with a detailed, downloadable build guide. 3Ders.org talked to Zarick to find out more, and learned how somebody who initially thought 3D printing was “just a toy” went on to complete a project of this scale.

Zarick’s fully functional BB-8 droid—the first robot he has ever made—consists of a base sphere with a single-axis rotation system, a magnetically-attached 3D printed head, and a single-handed joystick, which controls the movement, sounds, and lights. Three main components may seem easy enough, but unsurprisingly, it took hundreds of hours of designing, building, and assembling to bring this advanced droid to life.

The first thing to tackle was BB-8’s dome-shaped head. Luckily for Zarick, a quick Internet search led him directly to the BB-8 Builder’s Club, a maker community with over 10,000 members sharing and contributing detailed information on how to assemble a functional, 3D printed Star Wars BB-8 Droid. Using his MakerBot Replicator 2x, Zarick was able to 3D print the 25+ parts required for BB-8’s head and assemble them using the Builder’s Club’s excellent guides. “Mostly everything in the head was 3D printed, with the exception of the clear sphere on the eye and a few parts I laser cut,” Zarick told 3Ders.org. “But 95% was 3D printed and took about 50 hours.”

What makes Zarick’s 3D printed BB-8 so impressive however is not just it’s movie-realistic size or exterior, but the wonderfully ‘wobbly’ way it moves around. This is made possible thanks to a novel single-axis rotation system.

“The single-axis system was kind of figured out by watching the red carpet BB-8 and analysing its movement,” explained Zarick. “It was figured out that the real one used a single axel system, so I decided to give it a shot. Everyone was doing hamster-style, so I wanted to be different.” By ‘hamster-style’, he’s referring to the more common BB-8 build, in which a wheeled device inside the sphere rolls around to push it forward. In contrast, the single-axis setup (also used by James Burton of XRobots) relies on a counterweight: when you spin the motor, the counterweight will spin one direction, causing the whole sphere to spin the other way. “There are a lot of different ‘forces’ involved,” explained Zarick. “He wants to roll, he wants to wobble. The only way to prevent that is the counterbalance.”

The BB-8’s body consists of a polycarbonate sphere and aluminium CNC parts, which sustain the droid’s weight better than plastic. To put it all together, however, some 3D printed parts were required, including the magnet mount and several parts that hold the motors within the sphere. The final touch is a single-handed controller that could easily be brought into conventions or theatres. It controls the BB-8’s movement, flashing lights, and activates a series of pre-programmed bleeps and bloops.

After hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars (Zarick estimates he spent roughly $3,000 on parts, but that could be brought down to $1,500-2000), the end result is a wonderfully fun and realistic life-size BB-8 replica. “My absolute favorite part is him coming together has a whole,” said Zarick, who has combined his Star Wars fandom and 3D printing in the past. “None of the parts look too exciting or alive on their own. But man, once you put it all together, BB-8 comes to life, and it feels like he came to visit from his planet of Jakku!”

Ed Zarick with this life-size, working Star Wars BB-8 replica

Perhaps most impressive of all is that this BB-8 is Zarick’s first ever attempt at making a robot, and his first time 3D printing high quality, professionally finished parts. “My personality is one of, if I don’t know how to do something, I come up with a project that forces me to learn how to do it,” he explained. “I try not to be scared by the ‘unknown’ of a skill and just figure out how to do it.” It’s an admirable quality, though it comes as no surprise, as Zarick is a professional fire-fighter and considers it to be “one of the best jobs in the world.”

He added that he only began 3D printing two years ago, and initially, wasn’t very impressed: “It seemed like it was just a toy to print knickknacks off the Internet… That was, until I got into making my XBOOK Laptop and needed a custom plastic part that I just couldn’t make on my laser. That’s when I realized the power of 3D printing. Now I have three Makerbots that run almost constantly printing custom parts I design. It has become an invaluable tool.”

The drive system guide, Arduino codes, and controller files can all be downloaded via his website, Ed’s Junk, along with several great videos of the 3D printed BB-8 in action. For now, Zarick plans to continue improving the BB-8 droid, and eventually will bring it to a local children’s hospital to visit with the kids. His next project will be a 3D printed life-size R2D2, which, based on this awesome success, we absolutely cannot wait to see.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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