Robots Wielding Lightsabers? It Must Be Star Wars Day

Swiping a lightsaber in mock battle moves might not be the logical choice of motion for industrial robots, but it happens often.

This week Paul Heney from Robotic Tips posted his list of the coolest robots from Hannover Messe, the German industrial expo sometimes billed as “The world’s most important technology event.” First on Heney’s list was the lightsaber fighting robots from HIWIN. The robots engaged in a mock saber duel and moved back and forth in familiar swiping motions, minus the sound that our brains all make now when we see a lightsaber whizzing through the air. The robots are all from the RA605 Series, six axis robots with a 5 kilogram load capacity. The robots are intended for light industrial work, primarily pick-and-place or assembly operations.

This comes back up again today on May the 4th, now co-opted by engineering and science fiction fans as Star Wars Day. However, several other engineers have built robots for the purpose of lightsaber demonstrations in recent years. Yaksawa’s Motoman robots were holding lightsabers back in 2011 at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

Stanford engineering also built a Jedi robot in 2011, using principles learned in the Intro to Robotics course and applying them later in the curriculum for the Experimental Robotics course. The robots were programmed with a catalog of motions, and when the robot feels resistance in its strike it moves on to another attack path. Like so many things from the beginning of this decade, the battling bot was programmed using a Microsoft Kinect.

If Star Wars and science fiction in general celebrate the promise of what STEM fields can achieve, then it’s great to see today’s engineers repeatedly working to bring those ideas into the present. Lightsaber wielding robots (beyond General Grievious) are just one part of the engineer and maker movements centered around Star Wars – Stormtrooper suits, functional (non-firing) weapons, droids, and drones all represent our best attempts at building future tech in 2017. I look forward to seeing a full-sized AT-AT walking down the street someday soon.