Rise Of Your Childhood Fantasy Machines

28/11/2015 8:09 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
HuffPost Australia

Video by Tom Compagnoni

Special effects technician Dave Everett cocks his thumb towards the group of men working diligently towards the rise of the machines by breathing “almost a life into a dead piece of machinery”.

“Everybody is having a great time,” he said, grinning.

It's hard not to when you’re breathing life into your childhood fantasy. Twice a week, Everett and a group of like-minded hobbyists gather to build fully functioning replicas of familiar TV and film robots. And the occasional dragon.

Think scale model, remote controlled R2-D2s, the seven foot B-9 from Lost In Space, Mars rovers, Dr Who’s Daleks, huge fire breathing dragons for festivals and the occasional smoke breathing one for the more insurance conscious.

"A lot of it has to do with growing up with films and TV with robots on it, and we always wanted to build our own robots and now we're at the age where we can,” Everett told The Huffington Post Australia.

"We're trying to replicate everything we see in the movies. The heads have to move, the lights have to flash.”

dave everett

FX technician Dave Everett says people are attracted to robot making because they breathe "almost a life into a dead piece of machinery.”

It’s not as hard as you’d think either, explain Everett and fellow robot builder Drew Pearce, as they survey a barely visible work bench loaded with laptops, electronic parts and tools.

All you need to get started on your own R2 droid is a stanley knife, some free blueprints and a family that won’t mind you carefully cutting shapes out of plastic for months at a time.

“It’s really simple, but like a lot of things, 80 percent of the time is in the last 20 percent of the detail -- getting all the painting right, all the little features -- and that’s taken me months,” Pearce said.

“You could build it on your dining room table, if you wanted to and your wife will allow you.

“The fact that he moves is just icing on the cake.”

drew pearce

Drew Pearce attaches R2-D2's head before demonstrating the home built droid's ability to move by remote control

It’s been a five year love affair for the professional draftsman – and the whirring astromech droid now whizzing around the workshop pretty much had Pearce at hello. Or at least at beep-eep-boop-doo-beep.

“When Star Wars came out I was 10 years old and one of the very first scenes you see is R2 D2 coming down the corridor,” he said.

“No other movie at the time had this level of robots -- or portraying robots -- as a kid it was wow, and I always had a poster in my room and thought one day I’d get around to making him.”

The fact this remote controlled R2 moves comes from a bit of carefully crafted robotics smarts and an eye for what works.

R2’s metal dome turns thanks to old electric window motors, which sit snuggly next to a stretch of PVC piping that serves as the droid’s “spine”.


"Sid" -- a programmable, talking, robot made at the Sydney Robot Workshop.

The Sydney Robot Workshop -- currently a workspace in Gladesville in Sydney’s west -- has been up and running in one form or another for 12 years.

It started in Everett’s garage when a friend asked him to help with a project, one that quickly escalated to involve 10 friends.

“I think it allows people to explore areas that they probably have never been involved in before, because they’re not very interested by themselves,” Everett said, adding people who have joined the group often know nothing about robotics, but quickly pick up skills.

“When you put them in the context of a mobile, sensate robot, it starts to become a lot more interesting because you see almost a life in a dead piece of machinery.”

These robot makers are tinkering for fun and charity in a world where robots are starting to take centre stage in real life.

China on Friday unveiled a series of toy sized attack robots to counter terrorism, while drones are being used to fight wars, patrol our beaches for sharks and to deliver packages.

Australia will also host Robocup in 2019 -- a global competition with the aim of fielding a team of fully autonomous humanoid robots capable of defeating the World Cup-winning squad in a match governed by FIFA’s official rules by 2050.

Everett said he expects robots to become more a part of daily life in the coming years, but he isn’t scared of the machines rising quite yet.

"Thankfully, at the moment, the most danger you're in now from a robot is one falling on you. I wouldn't be too worried about them coming in the middle of the night any time soon,” he said.

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