Southern State Community College computer science professor Josh Montgomery’s robot replica of “Star Wars” series character R2D2 was on display and available for demonstration at Hillsboro’s Highland County District Library’s “Star Wars Day” event on Saturday.
The robot, which is about three feet tall and weighs 175 pounds, runs on two 12-volt batteries, has four computers inside, multitudes of LED lights, and can be steered with the aid of “hacked” PlayStation 3 controllers.
Montgomery said that, although R2D2’s appearance at the event was “my first library,” the little droid from Tatooine (actually his garage in Greenfield) has been showcased at countless other events statewide since its completion about two years ago, the biggest being the Education Technology Conference at the Columbus Convention Center.
The idea for the replica, he said, came from his family’s attendance at costume conventions where he, his daughter and his friends decided “we love ‘Star Wars’, so let’s go dress up as ‘Star Wars’ characters.”
He crafted a detailed, accurate-to-original costume of ‘Star Wars’ villain Boba Fett, which he later sold to a ‘Star Wars’ enthusiast in California, who shared photos of himself wearing the costume.
He said it wasn’t difficult to let go of the ensemble, noting, “I’m not a big collector, oddly enough,” and that “we have lots of memories and pictures” of the Boba Fett costume.
Always looking for new challenges, the next step turned out to be the R2D2 replica, which Montgomery said he funded, in part, with the proceeds from his sale of the Boba Fett replica costume, not wanting to spend too much of what termed “nerd money.”
His background in computer science, coupled with his enthusiasm for “Star Wars”, created a fortuitous transition into the construction of the R2D2 robot, he said, admitting that creation of the replica, which took two-and-a-half years, was not without its challenges, but that he learned to “fail up” and not give up.
He said that he also encourages his computer science students at Southern State Community College to “think big, ambitiously, and outside the box.”
“My ideas are driven through my students,” he said. “If a student says, ‘I think I can get to here’, I say, ‘Let’s go bigger. If you can get to here, why can’t you get to there?’”
He credits who he calls “the amazing grant coordinator at Southern State,” Amy McClellan, with helping to secure the funding to bring some of his big ideas to fruition, including the retro, arcade-style gaming cabinet that was built by Southern State computer science students, programmed using open-source software, and installed at the college late last year.
Montgomery said that determined ambition and forward-thinking innovation are qualities he inculcates in his computer science students at Southern State, encouraging them to fulfill their dreams and reach their intellectual potential.
He said he asks students, “what are your dreams and how can I help you get there,” and mentioned a student who didn’t talk to anybody for the first year of class and now wants to be a programmer for the space agency.
“I’m going to help her get to NASA,” he said.
Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette