Dr. Joshua Montgomery, a computer science professor at Southern State Community College (SSCC), has built and helped build a wide variety of entertaining animatronics — perhaps most memorably a movie-accurate R2-D2 droid from “Star Wars” — and, most recently, a giant hyper-realistic bee.
Montgomery started the project in 2019 with Dana Letts and Heather Tarlton, two STEM educators at Chillicothe City Schools District. At the time, Montgomery was director of technology at CCSD, and Letts and Tarlton asked him for help.
“To be honest, I was intrigued by the opportunity,” said Montgomery. “This is not something I did at CCSD, obviously, but as a hobby, I build robots on the side.”
Montgomery said Letts and Tarlton wanted to use realistic giant animatronic insects as teaching tools.
Montgomery is no stranger to animatronic robot builds. He built the R2-D2 droid in his basement, working in intricate details from the movie — all the way down to LED lights whose flashing patterns replicate the original prop droid’s. Montgomery has also helped SSCC students build other “Star Wars” animatronics, like a BB-8 droid whose robotic head is suspended magnetically above a rolling ball.
“I thought, ‘Let me contact some museums; they have to know people who make these kinds of things for their exhibits,’” Montgomery said.
Sure enough, one of Montgomery’s friends had done work for the Boonshoft Children’s Museum in Dayton, and they directed Montgomery to an acquaintance at Universal Studios who knew another person who built giant insects.
Terry Chase, a director at the Ozark Museum of Natural History, happened to be in the process of creating 10 giant honey bees for the New York Museum of Natural History.
“After some conversations, Terry agreed to make an eleventh honey bee, but this one would have a hollow thorax so that I could add motors and make the wings move,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery said the bee cost $10,000, “which apparently was a lot less than he charged New York.”
It took Chase a full year to build the model, Montgomery said, and by the time Montgomery received the model, he had left CCSD.
“However, I wanted to see the bee finished, so me and a few students from SSCC finished some code and came up with ideas on how it would work,” he said.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 hit soon after, and those students graduated before the project could be finished.
Now, Montgomery has finished the bee, which boasts a 45kg servo motor in the thorax that moves all four wings at the same time.
“The box the bee sits on is where all the magic happens,” Montgomery said.
One microcontroller runs the computer code for moving the wings and playing custom bee sounds. Students can press a button on the front of the box, and the bee will flap its wings and make noise.
Montgomery said the STEM teachers at CCPS plan to use it as part of a series that involves insects and honeybees.
To learn more about how you could be involved in a project like this, visit www.sscc.edu