How a Life-Sized R2-D2 Model was Built with Linear Actuators!

How a Life-Sized R2-D2 Model was Built with Linear Actuators!

Nathan Bong
Nathan Bong
PA Engineer

Popular movies such as Star Wars often have fan favorite characters like R2-D2 which many would wish for the opportunity to see in real life. We had the privilege to speak with Michael McMaster in 2013 about his plans to use our actuators for a new R2-D2 life size model. When Mike McMaster got the itch to recreate a working model of R2-D2, like so many of us have contemplated in the past, he came upon the R2 Builder's Club Yahoo! Group. After his first full size model of R2-D2 was a smashing success, he now aims to build an updated R2-D2 life size model with newer features.

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Engineering Comes Naturally

It seems Mike has always had a penchant for creation. "I have been building things since I was a little boy," he says. "I used to make elaborate spaceships from cardboard and lumber, then slowly stepped up to go-carts and more practical things." The move toward building things appeared to be a natural one for McMaster. "I lived on a citrus farm, so my father designed much of our farm equipment, and I was tasked with building some of it myself." When McMaster joined the R2 club in 2002, that's where he says his electronics and robotics knowledge really took off. There's a lot that goes into building a single R2 unit, from painting to molding to everything else. "I was really excited to learn how to mold parts that I had made, so I could reproduce them. I also learned how to properly paint and weather props through some very good teachers who are professional prop builders themselves." He's already created a large R2-D2 model as seen in his blog, so we wanted to know what the inspiration for the new one was. "I built my first R2-D2 replica over ten years ago, during the early days of the R2 Builder's Club, so it was slightly off-scale in a few places," he says. McMaster plans on making the new version as accurate as possible, and it will be built with many of the gadgets that saw R2 through the Star Wars saga. "He will be much more robust, as well," McMaster says. "Utilizing the latest advances available today."


Future Plans for R2-D2

Linear actuators will be used to control the center legs and foot of the R2-D2. We'll be able to see them switch from two legs to three legs when the replicas are done. "I typically use PA-14 actuators, as they fit in small spaces, are cost-effective and very powerful!" He'll control the little droids with an RC switch along with a few limit switches. Mike Senna, a long-time friend of McMaster, has also worked together with McMaster for a Wall-E project that used PA-14 actuators to actuate the arm and head movements. In Mike Senna’s latest R2-D2 build video, he goes over the process of installing the arms.


PA-14 electric linear actuator

PA-14 electric linear actuator

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R2 Builders Club

Considering how much goes into building these robots, you might think it would take eons of research, but that's where the benefit of being part of a group really pays off. "I am fortunate to be involved with a diverse group of talented people in the R2 Builder's Club. Many of them have already done a ton of research on the smallest details on each of the droids, which has helped tremendously." Among his resources for getting every specification as close as possible, he'll be using DVDs and material in print. "There are quite a few books on 'the making of Star Wars' with some great behind-the-scenes photographs."

For enthusiasts or seasoned professionals looking to get more information on building their own large R2-D2 model, the R2 Builder's Club is an excellent resource. McMaster says, "Members are always willing to help and give advice. Anyone can build a droid!" If you are interested in building your own droid, whether you have a background in robotics or this is your first one, visit the R2 Builder's Club Yahoo! Group info page or check out

McMaster says the robots are currently only a heap of parts, but we can't wait to see how the progress moves along. Find out about all of Michael McMaster's latest projects here, including his project with Mike Senna, the two Wall-E robots.

Wall-E robots

R2-D2 and Wall-E at WonderCon 2018

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In Summary

Making fun projects such as the R2-D2 life size model can greatly expand your imagination, creativity, and design skills. The original R2-D2 and Wall-E by McMaster and Senna have been seen in many charity events, conventions, promotional events, and TV appearances. Bringing a community together in projects like these truly bonds new friendships by spreading joy to fans who share similar interests. Thank you to McMaster for sharing your new build ideas for a full-size model of R2-D2!

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