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May the Fourth Be With You (and Your Robots)...

By Team InOrbit

It’s not a surprise to hear that many of today’s roboticists were inspired by George Lucas and the Star Wars films to create their own “droids” and intelligent machines. As the world recognizes Star Wars Day (May 4, as in “May the Fourth” be with you), we noticed some similarities between the droids in a galaxy far, far away and the ones now populating planet Earth. We also realized that much of the universe-saving that goes on in the movies rely on the assistance of these mechanized beings.

As the number of movies, books, television shows, cartoons, and video games expanded the scope of the Star Wars universe, so did the number of droids seen within the universe. Just like on Earth, droids performed many tasks that were dirty, dull, or dangerous for humans – such as monitoring moisture evaporators on Tatooine, or gas mining droids on Bespin.

The more popular droids seen in Star Wars include R2-D2 and BB-8, which were astromech droids originally used for service and maintenance of starships and spacecraft, but within the course of the movies they also delivered secret plans, such as the schematics for the Death Star or the hidden location of Luke Skywalker in Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  R2-D2 was likely the most versatile droid in the saga, as he also could interface with the Death Star to find the location of the tractor beam, as well as shut down the garbage compactor that almost crushed Luke, Han, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia. It’s interesting to note that we have yet to experience an all-purpose type of robot here on Earth, as most of the ones we’re coming up with generally have one purpose. A cobot arm that can hold different end-of-arm tools is kind of like R2’s robot arm, and mobile robots that work in warehouses sort of move like R2. The closest we got to seeing R2 deliver items was when he was forced to serve as a bartender droid on Jabba’s skiff in Return of the Jedi.

R2’s partner, C-3PO, was a protocol droid, which assisted the humans and other creatures in the Star Wars galaxy through language translation and other more diplomatic choices. The best equivalent here would be akin to Google Translate or even Alexa, Siri, or Cortana smart assistants. But in Threepio’s case, this was done in the form of a humanoid-style robot, which is in abundance on Earth as well. Although in many cases, humanoid robots in the real world are used for social-emotional tasks, such as helping children with autism or assisting the elderly with their emotional needs. The closest we get to something like C-3PO is SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which has appeared in customer service settings at banks, restaurants, and other retail establishments, with limited success.

Of course, droids were also prominent in the Star Wars universe as battle troops and “killers”, such as the assassin droids IG-88 and IG-11 (seen in The Mandalorian), or the battle troops in Episode I. Similarities can be found in many of the unmanned drones and other robots utilized in the military, although we are still, thankfully, far from humanoid-style robot troops. But it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that future battles between nations on Earth will likely include several unmanned boats, aircraft, and submarines.

Related to military robots are security robots that assist security guards with physical patrols, such as those from Knightscope or Nightingale. A big difference between the robots on Earth compared with the Star Wars droids, in this case, is that they are used to help humans with their jobs, rather than fight us.

Back to some similarities: Just like on Earth, droids would also break down and need to be repaired. Anakin Skywalker was very good at repairing droids, and apparently, Chewbacca had skills in being able to put back C-3PO together after the droid was destroyed in The Empire Strikes Back. If only Chewie had some kind of monitoring software that alerted him when something had gone wrong… but we digress.

The Star Wars Wiki, aka the “Wookieepedia”, has a great listing of all the different types of droids seen within the Star Wars universe. If you ever wondered if Star Wars had a library droid  (yes, they do), head here to check out the list. And whether you plan on watching the movies, some TV shows on Disney+ (including the debut of the new series, “The Bad Batch”), or playing your favorite Star Wars video game, may the Force (and the Fourth) be with you today.

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