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‘Galactic Builders’ brings students, robotics and ‘Star Wars’ droids together

In the first trailer for "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," the ninth installment in the saga, a new hairdryer-esque droid named D-O can be seen next to fan favorite droid BB-8. And the diminutive droid is a feat of engineering, even in toy form.

In the first trailer for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the ninth installment in the saga, a new hairdryer-esque droid named D-O can be seen next to fan favorite droid BB-8. And the diminutive droid is a feat of engineering, even in toy form.

Two students that participate in FIRST, a nonprofit to advance science, technology, engineering and math, were able to get a detailed look at the app-controlled version of D-O created by Hasbro in the first episode of “Galactic Builders.”

Galactic Builders,” which debuts Thursday on YouTube and StarWarsKids.com, brings FIRST students together with the makers behind toys and droids in the “Star Wars” universe.

Both Daniel Goncalvez, 13, and Lyndsay Waters, 14, have been involved in the FIRST Tech Challenge in Pawtuckett, Rhode Island.

They met with two of the makers at Hasbro, Melissa Hershey, principal engineer, and Phil Sage, the senior director of product design and development, to learn how so much engineering fits inside one tiny toy droid.

D-O is self balancing, with sensors that help the droid stabilize forwards or backwards so he doesn’t tip over. His single tire is angled so that he can shift his center of gravity on the edges of the wheel to turn, Sage said. And his antennae move expressively. That, plus the motions of his head, and little shakes and wiggles, “bring a little bit of life to the droid.”

It’s the same “Star Wars” magic that can be seen in the dips of BB-8’s head.

But in order for the toy to move in this way and respond to commands from the app, the engineers had to pack a lot of programming into a small space. For the engineers, and robotics students as well, those kind of challenges are what make it fun and interesting.

The students also brought their own robot from the competition to show off, equipped with omni wheels for quick turns and the ability to pull itself up.

“Seeing work students did today really makes me feel good about what’s ahead in terms of future engineers and designers,” Sage said.

And in turn, showing their robot to designers inspired the students. They walked away wondering how they could make improvements to what they’ve already built and ideas for the next robot.

FIRST has a global presence including more than 600,000 students. The partnership between FIRST, Lucasfilm and Disney was announced at Star Wars Celebration Chicago earlier this year.

A new episode will drop each Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. The series is part of Lucasfilm and Disney’s Star Wars: Force for Change philanthropic initiative to inspire the next generation of innovators.

In future episodes, FIRST students also get a behind-the-scenes look at building and operating a droid with the creator of BB-8, how robotics helped bring Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to life at Walt Disney World and the technology behind creating droids like K-2SO from “Rogue One.”

Each episode represents a different track with FIRST: LEGO League, Tech Challenge and the Robotics Challenge.

“In one of our upcoming episodes at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we were excited to be able to feature two students from the team Exploding Bacon from Florida who were Chairman’s Award Winners (the most prestigious award in FIRST) at the 2019 FIRST Championships in Houston,” said Emily Nerviani, Force for Change leader and marketing manager for Lucasfilm.

Even though they’re working on different things, the students and engineers found common ground in creating functional robotics. For example, Imagineers are using some of the same tools and mechanics to create audio-animatronics at the Disney parks that FIRST students rely on when constructing their robots.

“Star Wars imagines a universe of magic and wonder, where technology and invention dominate the galaxy, where interactions with droids are part of daily life and where no dream or innovation is too big,” Nerviani said. “Millions are inspired to see first-hand the impact science and technology can have in our everyday life. The Star Wars: Force for Change collaboration with FIRST aims to help inspire the next generation of heroes and innovators.”

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