Introduction: Lets Make a $20 Droid

Picture of Lets Make a $20 Droid

Building your own R2d2 style astromech droid can get very expensive very fast and very complex to construct. I challenged myself to come up with a way to construct an astromech style droid that is both relatively cheap to build and you do not have to own a machine shop to construct.

Let me introduce A3-8d (problem solving reference intended)

You may have seen glimpses of this robot in a few of my other builds. His function is to be a sort of appliance charging station robot. He also provides storage for electronic devices and tools etc. as I add automation electronics this droid is a test bed for feedback devices and generally a big toy :-)

Offline I've gotten a few questions on the chassis structure and thought I'd share how I built A3's chassis.

So lets get started and make a droid!

Step 1: Plan Your Bot

Picture of Plan Your Bot

As with most builds before my droid build I sketched some different designs loosely based on various readily available plastic containers.

I wanted to steer clear of of the classic R2 droid round body/dome top. That image is so iconic if you do not nail it the whole thing looks wonky.

But I did want to keep the 'trashcan' with legs design. This offers plenty of room in the main compartment and the overall feel is appliancey. So speaking of trash cans.... It came to me why not use a trash can. The size would about right. So I found a few cans that I felt had a shape that would not look instantly like a trash can if removed from that context.

The pics above are the droid design and the trash can I settled on.
The trash can is a 7.5 gallon I picked up at Wal-mart ~$8.

Next step was to engineer a way to give a plastic container some sort of load bearing chassis......

Step 2: Skin Over Chassis Layout

Picture of  Skin Over Chassis Layout

For an internal chassis for this droid build I wanted something modular and potentially easy to change if the purpose of the droid changed.

What I came up with was what you see in the pics above. Essentially a custom shelf unit that drops into the skin.
The "shelf unit" and outer skin of the droid can be bonded in the end (builders choice) or if flex ability is your thing leave them separate. This allows you to lift the entire guts of the droid out for trouble shooting and modding etc...

In the pics you see the shelf is basically platforms jam nutted along legs made of all-thread.

I apologize for the lack of pics for constructing the all-thread shelving used for the droid inner chassis I've been tinkering with this Droid for a while and did not foresee an instructable at the time.

But the spark of the idea is what I want to convey more than anything.

The shelving is pretty straight forward
Materials you will need are :

- Several feet of all thread I used 1/4"

If you are not familiar with all-thread it is really cheap ~$2 a stick and can be found at hardware stores, tractor supply, or any of the home improvement big box stores in the metal section. Some auto parts stores keep this but they may want more $$ for it.

- You will need nuts and washers that match your all-thread size and pitch , 2 of each per the # of shelves you are planning.

- shelving material, ply wood etc.. If your going light duty/prop foam board may work.

In my pics you can see I used lexan but only because I had a salvage sheet given to me. It is an excellent engineering material but is pricey $$.

_____Make templates______

A tip for getting the shape of your shelves to match the inner wall shape of your container is to use poster board or card stock. Stack books or something inside your container to the shelf height you want. Work out the shelf profile with paper. Then transfer to foam board. Do a dry fit. Then transfer the foam board templates to your final material.

Step 3: Access Panels and Power Ports

Picture of Access Panels and Power Ports

Once the inner chassis is done start thinking about where you want and need removable access panels in the outer skin.

I tinkered with my droid for several months without any panels but removing the entire self chassis of the droid to fix a simple issue gets old.
Plus having handy doors makes the container look and feel more like a droid.

Things needed for the droid access panels:

- Something to measure with
- Permanent marker
- Masking or electrical tape
- Razor knife
- Spool of Utility Hanger strapping
- Hot glue gun and glue
- Small fasteners ~#8

Step 4: Layout Panels and Cut 'em Out

Picture of Layout Panels and Cut 'em Out

With your marker sketch out a rough layout of what panels you want on the droids container surface.

Over lay this mark up with masking tape and double check your line layouts with a ruler. But keep in mind on multi curved surfaces if it looks right it is right no matter what the tape measure says LoL.

When you are warm and fuzzy about your masked panel layout start cutting out your droid access panels. As always be careful don't cut your digits off.

So how do we attach these???
Now lets make some panel stops...

Step 5: Add Panel Stops

Picture of Add Panel Stops

We need panel stops and a means to fasten our panels to the droid skin, this is where the hanger strapping comes in.

Hanger strapping is just a galvanized metal strip with lots of holes. Like the all-thread it is found nearly everywhere and is fairly cheap.

( Follow the pics above) Cut several "three hole" length sections out of your hanger strap. You will need at lease 4 for each panel you plan to make.

Warm up the old hot glue gun and glue your strapping sections one in each corner of the access panel holes as seen in the pics.

Be sure to leave the center hole far enough from the edges to get a fastener through the hole if you plan to use fasteners.
I started off using bolts but they are cumbersome to remove .. I graduated to retainer clips similar to how automotive panels are attached. These are covered in the next step.

Step 6: Latch Tabs and Hinges

Picture of Latch Tabs and Hinges

To mix up my attachment methods.

To make retainer clips glue strap along opposite edges of the droids panels to function like a tab latch. Slip one side in then flex the panel slightly to 'latch' the other side.

For a simple hinge on One of my longer panels I glued a scrap of tee shirt fabric to the panel and then to the inside of the skin to make a fabric hinge.
Finish the hinge by coating the inside surface to with hot glue. This will keep the cloth rigid.

Step 7: Power Socket

Picture of Power Socket

The droid power socket seen in the pics above was constructed from an Aptar Heinz 57 bottle cap.

Simply hollow out the center of the spout half of the cap making a hole large enough to mount an automotive style 12V power socket.

Finish up by cutting a hole in the panel being used to the outer diameter of the 57 cap. Now hot glue the socket frame to the panel and paint.

Step 8: Droid Legs

Picture of Droid Legs

The legs for my droid are a work in progress but I'll share the direction I'm headed.

The leg frame work seen above is 1" PVC Sch 40 and fittings.

Hanger strap is used to clamp the 'axle' tying the top of the legs together to one of the upper shelves of the inner chassis.

I'm still undecided about leaving the legs all exposed pipe work or covering the leg chassis with a skin.

As for function being that a function of this droid is device charging. The legs will be a good platform for housing all the various battery chargers floating around.

For this I will be adding 110Vac wall outlet supply cord and some sort of function switch for when the droid is plugged in performing charging that is more than what the onboard 12v batteries can handle. When I get the final design worked out I'll share the results.

Step 9: Closing Thoughts

Well that is about it.
Hope this sparks some ideas and motivation to build your own Droid.


maxhirez (author)2016-08-09

Looks good! I can't wait to see video of it moving around-I'm curious about the unit's actuation.

random guy eating pie (author)2016-03-25

if i made this id make it put a phone charger in it so i can charge my phone then i would put some tools on it so it can do stuff like a hammer i could use to push in nails

random guy eating pie (author)2016-02-20

looks cool i think i might want to make it it looks quite nice good job syfrog

GraydonT (author)2015-05-03

i would add lasers.

and make it a bit more robot like by adding a raspberry pi and touch screen to give it a bit more fuctionality

RyanT9 (author)GraydonT2015-06-12

well you might benifit from this video then-

GraydonT (author)RyanT92015-06-13

i would use a blue ray laser it does the same thing with a few more watts of power and looks cooler and i have a blue ray player laying around

RyanT9 (author)GraydonT2015-06-13 i want to do that

GraydonT (author)RyanT92015-06-17

you can find cheap laser diodes online

arbys (author)2015-06-01

i like it ..!!!! i will try to make like that one!

julian3012003 (author)2015-05-14

It sounds awesome! I think that I should make it.......

syfrog (author)2015-04-29

A tip for the hesitant droid maker; I lived with the shell for weeks just to see what I naturally stored / gravitated to the bot-to-be. Some tools and Nearly all my charging cables and adapters end up in this location. This told me What A3 wanted to be when he grew up :-)

DanyaelD (author)2015-04-25

LOVE it! I've been wanting to create a utility/power droid too and this gives me all sorts of new ideas :) Thanks!

tyler roberts (author)2015-04-25

"these are not the droids we're looking for." said the stormtrooper after turning from a trashcan and an empty suit of armor.

andsen942 (author)2015-04-24

Cool project! Post all the completed instructions and how everything works when you finish because this is deffintley something I want to build

the go pro man (author)2015-04-22

cool! I love star wars.

Topteddy49 (author)2015-04-22

Love to see a youtube vid

jameskirk (author)2015-04-21

Awesome Build...

I will have to try this...


syfrog (author)2015-04-21

Geo- great minds think alike they say I've actually been thinking about a crutch walking mechanism to try and build my own TARS robot :-)

syfrog (author)2015-04-21

I'm glad to see this build generating some enjoyment, thanks for the positive feedback.

Mr. Leach I would love to touch base with you and your class!!

Newbeatle currently this droid has no motion (still in R&D), it does have a dark detecting head lamp, binary counter display, bluetooth stereo, a voice module that is motion activated and/or sound activated and USB charging port. I have immediate plans to add 6 more battery charging stations to the legs for my power tools and other devices. My goal is to develop this robot to be useful household appliance.

I didn't cover the function of this build in this instructable but wanted to focus on the chassis options this type of assembly process can offer.

The Green Gentleman (author)2015-04-21

I like this project. I actually liked the yellow tape you had on it too. It really made it pop!

Y-Geo (author)2015-04-21

Very clever idea, with many applications. I saw some thing like you PVC legs/frame /feet used before the motion was like watching a human with crutches, ie rest on own feet swing the crutches (pvc legs) forward then lift weight forward on to Pvc legs and so forth. all done by Cams on one horizontal drive bar if my memory serves.

Keep up the good work and "spark" off the Hong Kong community they are fantastic for bouncing ideas off of.

newbeatle (author)2015-04-21

seems funny but what it does ? can you post a video of it in action ? or its just decorative - ornamental gift ?

sdumptruck (author)2015-04-21

This is not the droid I am looking for.....

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

espdp2 (author)sdumptruck2015-04-21


Graham Leach (author)2015-04-21

I like this project very much and I am wondering if you are interested in Skype-ing into my Robotics class in Hong Kong to say hello and inspire my students as they finalize their robot builds this Friday at 14h30 HKT (GMT +08h00). I think what you are doing in terms of ultra-low-cost robotics is very interesting indeed.

If you are interested in connecting with our vibrant robot community, please let me know. I am working with a few world experts in Robotics, each responsible for a world-famous robot platform, including Mark Tilden (Robo Sapiens) and David Hanson (Robokind). Along with Ben Goertzel (OpenCog), we are trying to come up with something cheap, fun, innovative and envelope-pushing. You have achieved this on the cost front, which will make you an instant friend of Dr. Tilden.

Let me know if you want to make contact.

Graham Leach, Lecturer of Robotics, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Moonman0922 (author)2015-04-20

wow you are very talented!!

syfrog (author)2015-04-19

You're looking for a hands on evaluation type of project I gather?.... Besides basic wiring what about working out a control circuit to monitor if the unit is plugged into wall supply AC or internal DC voltage only and switches the units' functionally accordingly?

hradoll (author)2015-04-19

Super cool. I need to take just the power portion and find a way to put it onto a 5.09 project for kids to do at one of my classes at my store. Any thoughts?

syfrog (author)2015-04-19

Thanks for the feedback. Post some pics if you give it a try. If I find a happy place with the legs I'll get an update together.

pantalone (author)2015-04-19

Thanks for sharing this. Very clear and good level of detail.

McTapeNinja (author)2015-04-18

Cool build, I might try it!

About This Instructable




Bio: I work in industrial automation and spend any free time making.
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