‘Beep beep boop’: Spencer STEM instructor builds life-size R2-D2

‘Beep beep boop’: Spencer STEM instructor builds life-size R2-D2

Torrey Proctor has brought a small feature of a galaxy far, far away right here to Spencer.

Up until February, Proctor had spent 11 months building a life-size, remote-controlled R2-D2, one of the famous characters from the Star Wars franchise.

Proctor’s R2-D2 made its public debut at Family Fest earlier this month. Last week, he gave a presentation on how he built the droid during the monthly Techknow meetup.

“Part of this project was to build something big and ambitious and share it with my kids,” Proctor said at the meetup. “Yeah, there is name recognition. I’m the guy that built R2 now. But then it’s been really empowering. I learned different processes, techniques, a bunch of different tools and it’s fun to share.”

Proctor is the elementary-level STEM instructor at Spencer Community Schools. He also co-founded Techknow. The Spencer nonprofit’s mission is to learn, teach and grow technology in the community.

Even with that background, Proctor said he had a lot to learn about building R2-D2.

“I just kind of learned as I went,” he said.

A club for droid builders

Proctor decided to build his R2-D2 after he saw a droid-building club at Maker Faire in Kansas City.

“I’m like, that’s my next project,” Proctor said.

So, in April 2018 he started 3D-printing parts in the Techknow makerspace on the northwest side of Spencer. Proctor would come in to print parts before school, after school and sometimes late at night, too.

He also bought as many parts as he could at local stores.

“I tried to source everything locally if I could,” he said.

Throughout the R2-D2 build, Proctor worked with 3D printing, wood, metal, electronics and lots of paint for many small parts.

“This is why it took me 11 months,” Proctor said during his presentation while a photo of numerous tiny parts showed on the projector screen. “That and I have two kids and a wife and a full-time job.

His kids even got chances to help their dad with a few smaller steps in the long process.

Proctor said his son was very careful not to touch the droid his dad was building.

“He was very respectful of that (being) something we don’t touch and mess with,” Proctor said.

R2-D2 comes to life

Proctor’s R2 can do more than one of several used in the original Star Wars movie trilogy. He controls it with a custom-programmed Xbox controller. It roams around, spins its head, lights up and makes sounds – all at the touch of a button.

One of the first R2-D2s fetched $2.76 million at an auction in 2017.

“It had no internal workings,” Proctor said of that R2. “It didn’t roam around. It didn’t beep or chirp. Mine can do all that.”

Proctor estimated he spent about $3,000 to build his.

He had to raise funds to make it happen. That included selling items around his house and using money from a class he taught last summer.

“I didn’t have all the money and cash laying around,” Proctor said. “I had to make it work.”

Members of the droid club played important roles in helping Proctor figure out how to build some of his R2-D2. He also bought several pre-made parts to save time and to make the droid look better.

For example, the head of Proctor’s R2 features lights that flash in patterns just like in the movies. He spent $200 on lights and a pre-programmed circuit board so that he wouldn’t need to do that himself.

“If I would have done (the lighting) on my own, it would have taken me eons,” he said.

Proctor documented much of his droid work on Instagram.

Help from fellow droid builders

Toward the end of the build, Proctor said he asked for a lot of help from people with some serious droid-building skills.

There are videos out there on YouTube that prove their expertise.

“Everything you see in the moves, the droid club people have figured out how to do,” Proctor said. “Except make R2 fly.”

During his Techknow presentation, Proctor showed an example of other R2-D2s and droids that had been built. One R2 had rocket boosters that came out of its legs. Others had retractable gripper or zapper arms that reached out from behind doors in the droid’s body.

Another R2-D2 had a working projector that played Princess Leia’s video message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. There is even video of an R2-D2 that ejects a lightsaber like in “Return of the Jedi.”

“Some of these people work for NASA,” Proctor said. “They know how to do stuff.”

A year later, with his fellow droid builders’ knowledge and his capable hands, Proctor has a beautiful R2-D2 of his own.

“Now I get to share it,” he said of the finished product. “It was totally worth it.”

Featured image: Torrey Proctor and his life-size, remote-controlled R2-D2 droid from the Star Wars franchise.

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