Chris James' R2-D2 won four Make Magazine editors' choice ribbons at Maker Faire and it's easy to see why: not only does it have every detail from the original—except having a little person inside—but this one is even more charming, capable of singing the Star Wars theme, and Indiana Jones sound bites. It only needs to have a built-in projector to be absolutely perfect. We asked Chris about the obvious next step: installing sensory inputs and artificial intelligence to make it truly autonomous. His take—and another video of R2 dancing with kids at Maker Faire—after the jump.
Jesús Díaz: Have you tried to give your astromech droid actual "droid" powers? You know, like some complex sensory input and artificial intelligence, at least at the AIBO level.
Chris James: One of the top questions we get is, are they autonomous or can they be retrofitted with the electronics from the little interactive R2 from Hasbro. The simple answer is yes they can be or could be done, but (and it's a big but) would you want a 200lb aluminum droid running around bumping into things? At a convention or show full of kids it would be incredibly dangerous.
Even something small like the holo projector eye twitching could poke an eye out as kids look into them all the time. I've been at events where we've had frequency issues and it's incredible scary when a droid starts tearing off when you're not expecting it.
Having said that, there are a number of people working on AI R2's, mostly powered by Leaf.
JD: Are you planning to add them yourself in the future, though?
CJ: My droid is powered by a bunch of small PIC micro processors, so not a huge amount of processing power but I may add some sensor/intelligence, like rotation dome/tracking, and syncing sound to people talking to him. But I'd make it optional and under my control when I want it to be autonomous. So if people were at a distance he could track movement and respond with sounds.
JD: Seeing your R2-D2—and looking at current toy robotics—actually makes me believe that there's a possibility of having a Maybe not capable of calculating hyperspace jumps, but good enough to order him things using speech, rather than a remote. Do you think we will see multifunction droids in the spirit of R2 coming from companies any time soon?
CJ: I'm really not a robotics expert by any stretch of the imagination, but from what I see we're there right now in some area, but I can't see people owning cheap AI droids like C3PO or Artoo in our lifetime. It would be nice, but I just can't see Asimo gaining enough intelligence at a price we can all afford.
I would be quite happy to have this one combined with an HD projector, all speech controlled. [Artoo Detoo—Video by Brian Lam]