For those of you unaware, there's three main categorizations of robots/droids in the Star Wars universe: roughly humanoid-designed robots; short, barrel-bodied three-legged robots, and pretty much everything else. We're going to focus on the short, cylindrical ones now. These are generally known as astromech droids, and the famous R2-D2 is a member of this group.
Astromech droids are sort of general all-around repair droids. They seem to be used for just about everything, from maintenance to manufacturing to military use to starship navigation and even for serving drinks. They're rugged, highly customizable, and wildly useful. The most common of these droids is the R-series, made by Industrial Automation.
So far, there have been nine known types of R-series droid, and five of these have actually been seen in the movies so far; the others appear in other Star Wars-related media. Here's a quick little guide to what each of these series of droids looks like:
The remaining four are mostly known to more hard-core fans: R6s have an R2 face on an R5-shaped head, R7s have a triangular eye, R8s have a little dish for a main eye, and R9s have a dome-shaped head with a little inset at the bottom.
Of course, there's more details about how they differ, but we're here to speculate on this new droid type. It's clearly related to the R-series, but there's one key difference: where all R-series droids have a cylindrical body, this one seems to be rocking a sphere.
I think this is a big enough difference to put it in a whole new series — lets call it an S-series droid, since that both comes after R and stands for "sphere." Let's really scrutinize this tiny video clip and see what we can learn.
The key parts are all there — the main radar eye, what's likely the hologram projector, various other status indicators and panels for equipment — but everything is a bit cleaner and more streamlined, lacking many of the bezels and complexity of, say, an R2. The main eye is a good bit bigger, which is likely what's triggering our neoteny-focused cute glands to secrete awwwratonin. Still, if this head was placed on a can-shaped body, I'd have called this an R10.
But, of course, it's not. It's on a spherical body. And we should try and figure out why. Luckily, I think I have an idea that makes a lot of sense.
In almost any scene with R2-D2 in any of the movies, the little blue droid is almost always lagging behind. He's just not quick. And, getting through rough terrain or even a flight of stairs just makes an R-series droid even slower. Sure, the prequels showed that R2 had little add-on rocket thrusters to get around, but those weren't very useful in confined spaces, and they didn't seem very efficient. Or reliable, if we take their total lack of any mention in Episodes IV-VI as an indicator that they just didn't work anymore.
With this in mind, a spherical body that also served as the primary means of locomotion starts to make a lot of sense. A spherical 'wheel' has a lot of advantages: it's omnidirectional, can be controlled for very precise motions, encloses a decent amount of space for more hardware and is relatively simple, mechanically, at least when compared with having multiple separate driving legs and wheels and all that sort of thing.
The question now is exactly how does this setup work? I think there's basically two ways it could go, and the trailer doesn't really give us enough information to see which one it is at this point. The head and sphere are either connected via a central spinal shaft though a divided sphere acting as two hemispherical wheels, or the head and sphere have no physical connection, and rely on some sort of magnetic/sciencemagical connecting force and a wireless method of data and communication transfer.
This is a probably solution, and could work well, but I'm not 100% sold on it, for a few reasons that could make sense to Industrial Automaton in the Star Wars universe. First, it's pretty mechanically complex: previous R-series droids sold so well because they were so durable, and part of that had to be because, while complex internally, their basic frames were simple, unfussy barrels.
And while this setup makes communication between head and body robust and easy, it does lose one of the big advantages of a spherical wheel: complete 360° steering. The setup shown here is essentially like a Segway or something — one axle with wheels. It can make tight turns and go forward and back, but it can't go side-to-side or all around like a spherical wheel could.
Using an energy-based method of body/head attachment would be much simpler mechanically, allow for a much more robust spherical body casing, and, from a hypothetical owner's perspective, I think make routine maintenance much easier. Such a system is no doubt very energy hungry and sophisticated, and probably a little dangerous to work on in your garage. But I think the benefits outweigh the cons here.
I'll be curious to see more of this plucky and quite fast-looking droid in the future. I think Industrial Automation has a real winner on their hands here, solving one of the longest-standing issues with the R-series, while keeping a tie to the lineage we all know so well.
I think I know what I'm going to be getting for my next astromech purchase! I'm sick of waiting for my old R6 to catch his ass up all the time when I'm at the hardware store.
source: gizmodo.com by Jason Torchinsky