Most people just have cars, bikes and lawn mowers in their garage. George Westwater has a droid.
As in R2-D2. As in “Star Wars.”
Fan-built droids are part of the frenzy related to “Star Wars: Episode VII,” which is set to open next year. Westwater’s version is no dime-store copy: It cost more than $16,000. The Lenexa, Kansas, man built it with sons Alex, 7, and Zach, 5.
Fans around the globe are doing the same thing. Westwater belongs to Astromech.net, an international droid builders club with 14,000 members.
“I have personally talked to people in Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, France, England and Italy,” Westwater said.
The fans’ droids are so good that “Star Wars” producer Kathleen Kennedy hired a couple of British club members to make the R2-D2 and other droids for the new movie.
Westwater’s droid is technically an R2-A7, with slightly different colors (green, silver and white) than the original R2-D2 (blue, silver and white). But in virtually every other way, it’s accurate.
Westwater’s droid beeps and boops. Its brushed-metal dome spins, and its multicolored LED lights flash. Complete with a motor and a remote, it can move around a room and play sound clips from the movie.
It is made of aluminum, which increases the cost. But droids can be made for as little as $1,500, he said.
For Westwater, 36, making droids with his boys is a labor of love.
The most fun part?
“Spraying the paint on it!” said Zach.
“Driving it!” Alex said.
“We decided the kids were just about old enough to be able to watch the ‘Star Wars’ movies,” Westwater said. “And they were getting to the age where I was looking for a project to do with them — hopefully around electronics or software. So we decided to build an R2. I started looking for some reference photos, then stumbled across the group.”
After getting plans from Astromech, he joined with other droid builders around the world to get laser-cut parts made at a bulk discount. Then he started building.
“It may seem daunting, but we have builders as young as 10 building on their own,” he said. “Everything can be done by anybody of any skill level. Quite literally, the laser-cut parts are like a 3-D puzzle. You just glue and screw.”
But what about the circuit boards and software? Not just anybody can do that.
“We try to stick to as many off-the-shelf parts as possible,” he said. “And there are walk-throughs on how to make them work. And just about anywhere anybody is living, there’s somebody nearby who is probably building a droid who can help.”
Westwater has taken his droid to his boys’ school, science-fiction conferences and “Star Wars” events.
“My favorite part . . . is that special-needs children are so drawn to it,” he said. “We end up spending 20 to 30 percent of a two- or three-day conference with families of special-needs kids. . . . That never gets old to me.”