Legions of comic book fans & Disney movies, pop culture enthusiasts and cosplayers came together at WonderCon 2019 held at the Anaheim convention center. The little sibling of Comicon was very well received this year, and we had the opportunity to support the Wall E builders once again.
Soon after the show, we had a chance to catch up with Mike Senna and Michael McMaster, the robotics nerds with an interest in all thing’s robots and Star Wars. Senna and McMaster met in 2003 at the R2 Builders Club. “We met through the club, and we immediately hit it off as we have the same creative minds. I joined this club in 2002 with the hope of building my favourite character from Star Wars,” said Senna. After completing the R2 Robot, this led Senna to contract an opportunity to work with Lucasfilm and has been on for the last 14 years!
The Wall-E builders club was later conceptualized and interestingly, even before the popular Disney movie was released. Michael McMaster said, “In October 2007, Scot Washburn formed the Wall-E Builders Club. All the team had at that time, were a handful of still images, a B&L website and a movie trailer for reference.”
Senna joined the Wall-E club in 2010 and on seeing there were no working models built, he invited McMaster to team up. While McMaster worked on the drive train, Senna worked out the body, arms and head dimensions. “Both tasks were very intense and after 2.5 years of development we had the first working model of Wall-E!,” explains Senna.
As there weren’t any shelf parts or mechanisms available, everything was hand fabricated. “We did a lot of research before building, including collecting every image we could get our hands on of Wall-E. As it was an animated character, it so often broke the laws of physics (and sometimes even physical space limitations), which we had to work around!” said, McMaster.
To move Wall-E’s head up and down, Senna used linear actuators for robots, “Wall-E was the first project I used Progressive Automations actuators to not only move the head but also to raise its arms.” The actuators used were the PA-14 series mini actuator with a 1inch and 2inch throw and a 50lbs force rating.
Senna explains how the actuator creates the required motion on Wall-E, “I control the head with a standard speed controller that is plugged into the remote-control receiver for moving with the transmitter sticks. The arm actuator is run by a PIC chip that I programmed to perform certain automated actions with a press of a button the robot actuator raises the arm and the arm waves, the arm stops waving, then lowers back down.”
McMaster and Senna also discussed the use of Progressive Automations actuators, “We required actuators that were durable, reliable and easy to configure to our application. We chose Progressive Automations because of the large range of force and stroke options available. The actuators have been used for over 7 years since we bought them, and we have never had a single issue or failure. These are tough actuators!”
Both McMaster and Senna are working on multiple other projects, most of them being new robot designs. They, however, do hope to add more functionality to Wall-E as time allows. “With the publicity Wall-E has received recently; the club has become very active. There are multiple builds taking place, and many new developments such as 3D printing, which brings a whole new level of construction techniques to the club.”
If you’ve watched the movie, one can easily connect with the Wall-E character. His unique and friendly manner has an effect on everyone he meets in not just the science fiction film but also in reality at the Anaheim WonderCon show. “We have had some incredibly positive reactions. A handful had become so emotional that they cried tears of joy when they interacted with Wall-E! Small children love this big-eyed, big heart robot and while they’re hesitant at first, usually warm up after a brief interaction,” explains McMaster.
McMaster and Senna have been innovators for many years and know what it takes to make it in the industry. Their advice to aspiring DIY creators and innovators –
“Never give up! Look around you and be persistent about finding out how things work. Whatever you build, give it your best! If you fail, push yourself to try again. Never forget that failure is also part of the learning process.”