Roboticist Reveals Why the Star Wars Droids Aren't Totally Science Fiction

Roger, roger.


The Star Wars franchise has created some of the most iconic robotic characters in sci-fi history. But are these mechanical mates completely limited to the realm of science fiction, or could we one day have a recreation of R2-D2 following us on our trips to the grocery store?

Texas A&M University researcher Robin R. Murphy has set out to answer a question in the mind of many a diehard Star Wars fan: How realistic are droids like BB-8 and C-3PO, actually? While it might not be possible to recreate robots exactly like in the films, Murphy tells Inverse there are many concepts from these lovable androids that roboticists could implement.

“In the case of Star Wars, the main idea is that you have to have helpers in space,” Murphy tells Inverse. “R2 can fix [a spaceship] mid-space flight. You got this idea that robots are there as assistants and are there to do things that people can’t do under certain conditions. That’s exactly why you need robots. They don’t replace people. They do things that we can’t do.”

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics, Murphy gleans the “teachable” moments of the film series and separates them from the Hollywood magic.


One of the major takeaways was how BB-8 and R2-D2 communicate. Murphy believes the beeps and boops that these two helper droids use to speak to characters in the films can actually be used in real-life assistant robots.

“One of the most brilliant things is that sometimes you don’t need to actually talk to communicate verbally,” she explained. “Think about a high-functioning sports team like in football or basketball. They’re not talking to each other. They’re looking over and seeing if their partner is in position. Sometimes a grunt or whistle tells you everything you need to know.”

But don’t get too excited just yet, Star Wars fans. Murphy also pointed out the things that would be completely impossible to recreate in the real world, including BB-8’s spherical body.

In The Force Awakens, Rey and her round companion traverse a desert with no issues aside from a few space bandits. But multiple unofficial tests of BB-8 toys proved that it becomes completely stuck in sand.

Murphy explained that Dan Goldman, an expert in robot and animal movement, also tried this out, as seen in the video above.

“[He] ran it in a sand pit that he usually uses to test sand lizards and robots and how they perform in those conditions,” she said. “He’s got a video of BB-8 driving smooth and then it hits the sand and its head flies off.”

While ball-shaped robotic friends might not be possible, we can still hope for chirping, trash-bin shaped droid like R2-D2 to fill the void that BB-8 has left us.

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