What better time to compare science fiction and fact than on the eve of Star Wars: Rogue One‘s theatrical release? Droids are second-class citizens in the space opera universe created by George Lucas, but they have as much personality as their human and alien companions. How does a cinematic droid compare with real-world robots?
This golden android is one of the first characters we see in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the first film released in the franchise. C-3PO’s design is partly inspired by the robot in 1927’s Metropolis. Built by Anakin Skywalker, he (most robots seem to have genders) “is fluent in over 6 million forms of communication.”
A close equivalent would be SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper, a multilingual humanoid service robot already in use in stores worldwide. Thanks to facial recognition software, Pepper is able to sense the emotions of the humans it talks with, so it might be more sensitive than See-Threepio.
This plucky astromech droid is nearly destroyed during Luke Skywalker’s Death Star trench run, but R2-D2 is a Star Wars stalwart, appearing in all seven movies so far. When the prequels began filming, Lucasfilm turned to fans who were able to construct robots far more capable than the original cylinder.
Kenny Baker’s plucky Artoo and Anthony Daniels’ fussy See-Threepio are the Laurel and Hardy or Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of that universe.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. recently showed off a robot that can take over flying duties to save on the number of airmen required for long military missions.
The Aircraft Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) includes a Universal Robots arm and is more of a co-pilot than an autopilot.
MSE-6 repair droids
These small “mouse” repair droids were seen in the corridors of the Death Star. They unobtrusively helped clean the massive battle station.
iRobot Corp.’s Roomba vacuum cleaning robot is the most popular consumer robot so far, with millions sold. While it’s still less efficient than a conventional vacuum cleaner, it’s the robot you’re most likely to see in daily life.
2-1B surgical robot
This medical droid provides Luke with a cybernetic hand in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Like many Star Wars automatons, it’s utilitarian-looking, with manipulators, long arms, and hoses.
Intuitive Surgical Inc.’s da Vinci is the leading surgical robot on the market, and it also features long arms. Robotic systems currently aid surgeons in minimally invasive procedures, and we discuss how they’re evolving in this week’s webcast.
The dreaded Imperial probe droid hovers like a spider and is first seen on the ice planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s designed for surveillance, not combat.
ReconRobotics Inc.‘s Throwbot is a portable remote-controlled device that police and soldiers can use for reconnaissance. Its low profile is less threatening-looking than the probe droid, but it can help save lives.
These killer droids kept the Jedi knights on their toes during the Clone Wars. In addition to being rolling precursors of sorts to BB-8 (see below), they included guns and energy shields.
GuardBot Inc. makes security robots that are capable of surveillance over all terrains. The spherical GuardBot was originally designed for Mars exploration, so it too has a space angle.
This rolling droid was the cutest thing about Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Like R2-D2 before him, BB-8 is brave and relays secrets for the forces of good.
Sphero, the Boulder, Colo.-based company that built the movie droid, sold remote-controlled replicas of BB-8 as one of the hottest toys last holiday season.
Chopper, as he’s called in the animated TV series Star Wars Rebels, is an astromech droid like R2-D2 but is far more irascible. He serves with the crew of the Ghost as the Rebel Alliance is forming to fight Palpatine’s evil Galactic Empire.
For a different kind of chopping, Moley plans for its robotic chef to be able to prepare up to 100 meals by 2018. As with Chopper, humans may want to steer clear.
Last for now is the security droid played by Browncoats’ favorite Alan Tudyk (through motion capture) in Rogue One. We know that he’ll work alongside a rag-tag Rebel team involved with getting the first Death Star plans.
Boston Dynamics’ Atlas humanoid robot was designed to be able to move through varied environments and was provided to participants in the now-ended DARPA Robotics Challenges. While intended for rescue missions rather than infiltration, Atlas is still one of the most widely known research models.
May the Force be with you — always!