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Working BB-8 Droid from Star Wars Episode 7


An End and A New Beginning

Thank you everyone for your support over the 20 months the BB-8 project has been running.  I will run out of time tomorrow to gather more support.  That also means the comments page will close to new entries.

The project was sparked by my initial disappointment that there was no working LEGO BB-8 droid kit at Christmas 2015 when Star Wars: The Force Awakens had been released.  Previous kits such as 8002 Destroyer Droid suggested that a BB-8 kit might be possible but at the start of the project I didn't know how well I could make it work.  After expanding from 4M to 5M side length, a lot of mechanism trials and splitting the shell into two, BB-8 is drivable with head control and can stay upright most of the time.  I built the kind of Technic kit I would be prepared to buy, with a cost of around £300 and plenty of parts including Power Functions, sneaking under the 3000-piece limit.  I'm happy that well over 1300 of you agreed that you would like a kit like this.  Now that there is a Millennium Falcon with over 7000 parts it is time to have bigger Technic kits too.

During the build process I was fortunate that the "Banana" ring gear quadrants became available in the Bucket Wheel Excavator 42055.  This enabled the split shell to be supported successfully.

The trial of two independent Power Functions Battery, IR Receiver and Motor sets on the same channel, with mechanical connection of the motors, was successful.  This is a good method for powering models whose drives need more than one XL motor at a time.  All the PF components run well within their capability.

I was also able to use a Code Pilot from set 8479 to drive a few 9V sound bricks to produce a droid voice in the videos of BB-8.  This used a staccato effect by using the bar codes to program the motor drive output to turn on for fractions of a second at a time.

The project also found a couple of safety limits, firstly in spinning a flywheel made from weight blocks with a risk of releasing High Energy Debris from a poor-quality flywheel, and secondly in using Neodymium magnets with a risk of them being swallowed if children got hold of them.  The magnets could be used with train couplings as the 12mm ones are a similar size, enabling a detachable locomotive to pull a longer, heavier train.  It is a useful technique but not one for a LEGO Ideas project.

As this project comes to an end, I have a new project in mind.  Again it will involve some Technic mechanisms and a Space theme, though not a franchise theme as those are no longer accepted.  I have some working prototypes but, before I submit it, I have to do a bit of development on the mechanisms and then some compilation into a set to make the initial submission a bit more polished than BB-8 was to begin with.

I look forward to developing another project, so please look out for it in the coming weeks.  The set will be very suitable for expansion in multiple.


Last Chance to Support BB-8

Thank you all for your support.

The rules of LEGO Ideas have been clarified.  It will no longer be possible to submit a Star Wars idea because that is an existing LEGO theme with a Disney licence, so I could not resubmit BB-8 at a later date even if he was working perfectly and looking as good as in the movie!  This leaves all of you with just this once chance to support BB-8.  It is a tall order to make 1,219 into 10,000 votes by the end of August but let's see how well we can do.  It is a shame particularly because BB-8 is clearly different from the range of Star Wars sets since the beginning and would therefore not encroach on any existing sets or plans between the LEGO company and Disney's Star Wars product team.  His closest relations have been the Pit Droid 8000, Battle Droid 8001 and Destroyer Droid 8002 as well as the Droid Developer Kit (R2D2) and Dark Side Developer Kit (AT-AT).

I will be showing BB-8 at the Brickish Association AGM in the UK this weekend.  Members will be able to see the progress since October 2016 when BB-8 was with us at the STEAM museum in Swindon.  At that time I had just completed the first mock-up of the split-shell architecture; see "Take a Bow" below.  Since then, BB-8 has working 2-pair motor drive, a moving head and working speech light, and 4/6 tool areas transferred from the previous shell.

The 2-pair motor drive has been a good illustration of how to push out the limits of Power Functions, with application to trains and other Technic models.  Driving practice has been enough to experience the train handset issues that other people have found; sometimes the speed changes in the opposite direction to the turn of the dial; the contacts under the dials are prone to wearing out.  An alternative would be an NXT with IR Link sensor, which could send precise speed commands as an alternative to the incremental ones of the train handset.  An S-Brick would be another option for phone control, though this is not a LEGO company product.

BB-8 will not be my last LEGO Ideas project but it will not be easy to find a working model that would be so popular.


BB-8's Wardrobe Change Part 4

BB-8's wardrobe change continues, slowly but surely.

Having verified that the less-complex tool faces are robust enough to rolling around, it is time to improve some of them.

One of the least-developed ones is now half-finished.  The other half will need some tan pieces to do the rebel symbol.  Since the time of the Technic Star Wars sets 8000-8002, the tan colour has not featured strongly, except for some axle pins.  I have used some tan 1x3 liftarms around the circles but I will see what other parts I have.

The upgrade has good structural support so it should be robust to rolling around.  The grey parts are tied into the black structure underneath at the points in the middle of the sides of the 7x7 area.

Please continue to support and share.  I can only do this with your help; many thanks.  Who will be our 1200th supporter?


New Video

As BB-8's wardrobe change continues, here is another short video:


I look forward to the next video of BB-8 that will show more of his best shell on the moving model.  Before I can make that video, I have to make sure all the transferred tool faces have enough support to allow BB-8 to roll successfully.

As the name policy on LEGO Ideas has changed, I have changed my display name to "brickthus".  This is also my twitter handle and my display name on YouTube.


BB-8's Wardrobe Change Part 2

Here are some pictures of progress in swapping the best shell onto the moving model.  As per the last update, I have swapped all 6 edges (like the white part on the right with 4 small panels), 3 tool faces on the right and one so far on the left.
The other two tool faces are the most complex of the six.  They need to combine a modified structure with the "hold together" function.  I have also left the hoses on the static model for now.
Since last time I have added a few small pieces to restore the "stay upright" function.  These are the dark bley pieces next to the orange pieces at the top and left in the picture below.  They fit and blend in better with the tool face patterns compared to the previous parts with the swapped-out faces.  Stay-upright performance is not perfect yet so there is more testing and refinement to do.
These internal shots show the differences inside for the two tool faces that remain to be swapped over.  First the face with the arm and second the face with the drawer for the plans:
I have to see whether the new stay-upright parts will reduce the jumpiness of the movement from previous videos.  I have some rubber grip parts available and have to determine where to use them; I have worked out some possible locations but I would like to find an even set of positions around the part of the shell that will touch the floor on a hard surface.  It would be 2 straight lines if BB-8 were a perfect sphere, but it's not so easy with an angular sectional shell!

With the swapped panels, the gaps in the shell on the moving model are reducing.  I might add some pieces around the central white band; the shell halves have to avoid the neck at the top and the stabiliser wheels at the bottom so those set the gap in the middle.  Matching them with the width of the white bands would help.

I will share another video soon.  Please keep on supporting and sharing.  I can only do this with your help.  Thanks.


BB-8's Wardrobe Change Part 1

BB-8 is swapping his skeleton shell for his best shell on the moving model.

So far one complete half of the shell (three edge panels and three tool faces) has been swapped, and three edge panels and one tool face on the other side.  The other two tool faces have internal modifications to accommodate their tools, so I will need to develop a work-around to use a similar hold-together function from the same parts of the moving model.

The swapped parts rotate well enough and do not foul other parts any more than the skeleton shell did.  I still have to apply the stay-upright parts to the tool faces that have been swapped.  This may need different parts in order to blend in better with the tool face patterns.  I'm also thinking about using some rubber parts to aid grip on hard surfaces.  The previous videos show jumpy movement as one half of the shell or the other has slipped on the surface.

I will share another video soon.  Please keep on supporting and sharing.  Thanks.


Yes We Can!

With the new middle slice, the head transplant complete and the "speech" light installed, BB-8 has all his electric functions working together in one model.  He can roll, turn, spin, turn his head and light the "speech" light.  The head and light are on a different channel from the body movement so BB-8 can turn his head as he rolls along.

So here is the new video, showing all the functions working:

It is now, after a year of building, that I really believe a working BB-8 droid can be made out of standard LEGO pieces.  There were always both hopes and doubts but the challenge with a project like this is to carry on until all feasible routes are exhausted.  There has been a lot of experimentation throughout the year.  A lot of new parts have emerged at just the right time, such as the yellow "banana" geared ring quadrants.

At the start of the project I said "If you would like to see a working LEGO BB-8 droid then please support this project."  Well here he is working.  Yes, we can make a working BB-8 droid out of standard LEGO pieces.

I will continue and put the best shell on the working model.  The geometry is similar so it should fit OK.  I'll start without the hoses and think about what space there is for their spools in the working model.  I have to see how the hold-together and stay-upright functions of the skeleton shell will work with the best shell.

There is still a bit of space around the drive motors.  I could upgrade their structure to lengthen the time between maintenance periods.  I had considered whether an extra motor could move a mechanism on the shell, such as remote deployment of the arm, but that might take more room than there is.  One of my patents US8096106, a "Precession Drive" that started as a LEGO model, would be a suitable way to drive a mechanism on the moving shell from the static structure. In a kit, such a mechanism would have to be either different or licensed.

Thank you all for your support.  We have reached 1130 supporters but we need more support each week if we are to reach the goal for BB-8 to be considered as a new LEGO kit.  The next target is 5000 supporters by September.  Now that BB-8 works, more people should be convinced.  Please keep on sharing with your friends, including the videos.  The latest video is short, which is more suitable for Instagram.


Happy Birthday BB-8!

Happy New Year!  And Happy Birthday BB-8; the project is one year old this week.

I have fitted the new middle slice changes to the moving model, and transplanted BB-8's head as well - more details next time.  It is useful to make a copy of part of a model and try out some changes; this is why you can never have enough LEGO bricks!

Now that BB-8's head is able to move as he rolls along, I'm preparing to make the next video.  I'd like to try fitting his speech light first.

Thank you all for your support.  We have reached 1100 supporters in a year; that is 1/9 of the way to 10,000.  We need more support if we are to reach the goal for BB-8 to be considered as a new LEGO kit.  I want to give you the chance to build and drive your own half-size BB-8.  Every home should have one!  Please keep on sharing with your friends, including the video below.


Another Slice - Part 3

Hope you all had a happy Christmas, including opening some new LEGO!

I have added a Servo Motor to BB-8's new middle slice to control the head turning.  Rather than adding 2 motors and a gearbox, with extra complexity, I decided that the diff lock and stabilisers could be manual functions for now, though I would improve them and make them more accessible.

Picture 1 shows BB-8's head transplanted onto the new middle slice, with the battery in position.

Picture 2 shows the Servo Motor and a black lever as the current means of actuating the diff lock.  The blue peg in the lever moves down from its current position to engage the red cog, connected to the lower 20-tooth cog, with the shaft connected to the upper 20-tooth cog.  Pieces on the battery box enable it to be fixed securely on its shelf.

Picture 3 shows the red gear selection lever that actuates the diff lock.  The head gears are at the top.  There will be another battery shelf on the right as there is in the current moving model of BB-8.

I did some more set building, completing Volvo EW160E 42053 and Bucket Wheel Excavator 42055.  Whilst BB-8 uses quite a few parts from the first BWE I have both white trucks and a yellow Mining Truck 42035 to go with the second one.  Some sorting has cleared up the opened BWE bags that were splitting with use as I raided the parts for BB-8.  I'm looking forward the the new Technic sets for 2017, evaluating them as parts packs and hoping the prices will not get too high.

I have also made a small shell improvement on the moving model of BB-8, to help fill the gaps between each half of the shell and the white central band that fits to each side of the middle slice.

Thank you all for your support.  Building is progressing.  Please keep on sharing with your friends, and don't forget to watch the video (scroll down).


Another Slice - Part 2

I've started on the new middle slice for BB-8.  This is the static structure as a copy of the existing middle slice, including the diff lock.  The 20-tooth cogs engage with the turntables that rotate with the two halves of the shell.

The diff lock is deliberately as simple as possible in order to minimise friction between the two halves of the shell.  The idea is to lock them together for straight running, to keep the orange circles synchronised once they are brought into alignment at the end of a turning or spinning movement.

I have caught up a bit on set building, adding extra wheels to the CLAAS Tractor 42054, building the Batman Tumbler 76023 and the Ninjago Ultra Stealth Raider 70595, which include Technic with studs!  Some sorting will free-up more parts too.

Thank you all for your support.  Building is a bit slower recently but I can see opportunity over Christmas to accelerate again, just as I developed the first prototype of BB-8 over Christmas last year.

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