Galaxies Not So Far Away: MSUM Professor 3-D Prints “BB-8” Replica

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By: Logan Peterson, petersonlo@mnstate.edu

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—or, right down the hall in the MSUM Center for the Arts.

For three months, Carlos Pacheco, assistant professor of photography at MSUM, has been working on building a droid, or at least aconvincing replica of one.

With some 3-D printers, designs found online, a few miscellaneous parts and time—lots and lots of time—Pacheco is well on his way to recreating the popular robot “BB-8” from the “Star Wars” films.

“A lot of that time has been waiting and fixing things, as the 3-D printers don’t always work as advertised,” Pacheco said.

Problems with 3-D printers include snapping parts, warped pieces and sometimes processes that stop halfway through. To prepare for this project, Pacheco printed a one-for-one replica of a “Star Wars” “lightsaber.” “BB-8” is a one-for-one recreation as well.

Pacheco said everything on the outside of the droid is 3-D printed, except for two glass pieces. Most people who work on this project must make the glass pieces with resin. However, Pacheco found a bead that fit perfectly for one of the glass pieces, and a modified Christmas ornament for the other.

“Essentially what people have been struggling to make, I was able to just find,” Pacheco said.

The process of printing a 3-D object isn’t as easy as it might sound. The pieces have to be printed separately, as the printers on campus aren’t big enough to print something of this scale. Each half-circle piece takes between 12 and 14 hours to print. Pacheco said the designers put out options for both piece-by-piece printing and an all-in-one option.  

Pacheco’s creation also talks and lights up. During the project, he says he learned how to etch a circuit board using ferric chloride. The program for the lights and the diagram for the circuit board were also available online. He said it took three tries to get the circuits right.

The sounds and lights are operated through an app on his phone. Once the body is complete, Pacheco will be able to control some of the droid’s movement as well, according to the program.

“I don’t know that I’ll be able to do that just yet,” Pacheco said. “It’s a little expensive for all the parts needed there. It’s a little bit more complex in terms of the robotics.”

When he was a kid, Pacheco said he collected “Star Wars” toys. Though he hasn’t kept up with that hobby, he thought the movies offered an interesting challenge.

“I thought it would be cool to see what our 3-D printers could do. I like ‘Star Wars,’ I was like, ‘let’s see if I can print my own droid,’” Pacheco said.

Pacheco’s original plan was to print the droid “R2-D2.” He decided on “BB-8” because the droid is smaller and easier to start with.

The plans Pacheco used to print the droid were invented and revised by many people. He said that the electronics of the circuit board he is using was developed by a person in the Philippines.

“It’s just kind of people working all over the world to put together something they enjoy.”

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