If there is one thing all Star Wars fans can agree on, it’s that droids are cool. Droids are kinda the best for a variety of reasons, and aside from the whole indentured servant/mechanical slavery angle to how these mechanical wonders are treated in that galaxy far, far away, they are pretty universally loved by fans and casual viewers alike. Whether these mechanical marvels are navigating boats through rivers of lava, repairing spaceships from the outside in the heat of battle, rolling and gunning in the theater of war, or just straight up interpreting — these characters are impressive to see on-screen and even more impressive when we learn about the real-world counterparts many of them have. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic droids this side of the Outer Rim and explore the practicality of their designs plus their robotic equivalents in our own galaxy — the human form may have its limitations, but for these droids, unique designs will always be needed and appreciated.
- Spot/BoBF Dog Droid
Imagine walking through the dusty streets of some backwater settlement on a planet with a harsh environment. Casually strolling past the various citizens and homesteads, you encounter a pair of droids that look uncannily like a dog, trotting down the street on four legs and a sleek body. This was exactly what we saw in the first episode of the Disney+ show The Book of Boba Fett, and if you happen to have a spare $74,500 dollars lying around, you can make this fantasy a reality! Developed by Boston Dynamics, Spot is a real-world robot built to explore and navigate in ways humans are incapable of. Boston Dynamics has been developing robots for some time now, and all for a variety of uses and purposes. While they do not develop these exploratory machines for the Military exclusively, these robots have found their way into practical application with the US military, serving as scouts and for search and rescue operations. Good boy, Spot droid. Good boy.
First introduced to audiences at Disneyland in 1987, then later canonized in an episode of Star Wars Rebels, Captain R-3X (previously known as RX-24) is the pilot of the StarSpeeder 3000 for Star Tours on the original run of the Disney attraction, then later a civilian pilot on the beloved cartoon series. With his body segmented into separate rings, one atop the other, R-3X makes for a perfect pilot, as each arm is capable of working various controls around the cockpit as the rings that host each arm are able to swivel independently of each other. Image if pilots in real life could do this. Outside of a computer-controlled aircraft, having a pilot with more than two arms would make flying that much more safe and precise. R-3X can now be found DJing in Oga’s Cantina at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where his multiple arms are able to put even the defunct electronica duo Daft Punk to shame with his superhuman ability to blend beats and mix tracks — R-3X certainly knows when to drop it like it’s hot.
- GNK/Power Generator
Your ship is running low on power, and you need to push it just a little further to the next navpoint. What does a pilot like you do? Well, thankfully, you’ve got your trusty, rusty, old GNK droid in the back, ready to be plugged in to help give your cruiser that extra juice it so desperately needs. The GNK (or gonk if you so please) droid is truly one of the best, most practical droids out there. Aside from being a favorite of my wife, these cute little boxes on legs are crucial to helping those in the Star Wars galaxy with their emergency-power needs. In the real world, while not a robot per se, humans around the globe rely on gas or solar-powered generators in many situations; from disasters to camping, these often times portable devices can help to keep the lights on, and in certain situations, save lives when hospitals are without power to keep things like oxygen flowing to patients. If only someone could make a running generator say “Gonk!” every few seconds instead of being so loud…
While we’re on the subject of hospitals — Surgical droid 2-1B may get all the glory, but the real star of the show is this droid’s assistant, FX-7. Armed (pun most certainly intended) with multiple appendages with various tools at the end of each one, FX-7 is the go-to for all your minor and major medical procedures. This thing can do it all, and without having to take a break or go to the restroom or head down to the hospital cafeteria for some coffee and a cold sandwich every few hours. Very much inspired by such fantastic machines as seen on the screen, the MURAB is a medical robot designed to function much the same way FX-7 works. With multiple arms, this robot helps doctors in performing biopsies on cancer patients using an array of sensor, sonic, and 3D-imaging technologies to create a minor incision, collect the sample, then retreat from the sample site, all while flawlessly leaving the patient with minimal scarring. The wonders of a long time ago seem to be appearing in the now more and more frequently.
- Protocol Droids/Robot Hosts
While there have been reports of humans capable of speaking up to a couple of hundred languages, sometimes you need someone who can fluently speak over six million forms of communication. This is one of the many tasks your average Protocol droid can perform. They may be stiff and have many of the same limitations we humans possess, but Protocol droids also serve as hosts, assistants, messengers, and even programmers. They may not have the braun needed to lift that box, but they can speak binary and tell that loadlifter to pick it up for you. In the real world, various companies and engineering firms have been working for decades to create an army of robots capable of taking orders in restaurants, greeting, and guiding guests at hotels, and even doing their best to live in the uncanny valley, since they are made to mimic our features to better assist us in the future. C-3PO may be fussy, but his real-life counterparts have gone above and beyond in situations where there is a shortage of labor or vocabulary skills no mere human can wield.
- Astromech Droid/Toolbox
Is there any droid more iconic to the Star Wars franchise than the humble Astromech? I really don’t think there is. Inspired by the repair robots Hewey, Dewey, and Lewey in the 1972 cult-classic sci-fi film Silent Running, your standard Astromech droid is essentially a Swiss Army Knife with legs, a chirpy voice, and occasionally some sass and attitude (looking at you C1-10P). Why little Anakin never made an Astromech for his mom is a mystery we may never uncover, but Shmi Skywalker would have been better off with a half-sized helper rolling about the slave quarters than having a finicky, naked, Protocol droid puttering about. The most famous Astromech is of course R5-D4, the little droid that blew out his motivator so that some whiny kid on Tatooine could become entangled in the war between the Empire and Rebel Alliance all because the back-up option was carrying some stolen military plans. In the real-world, there are many times in when machines and robots that can perform some of, if not many, of the tasks we’ve seen Astromechs perform over the course of the Star Wars franchise. In all honesty, the best analogue in our daily lives is that of the common toolbox. We all have one sitting around in our car hole or closet, and they are as indispensable and reliable as the trashcan-like machines doing all the menial tasks of a dozen mechanics, hackers, and copilots all rolled into one.
- Imperial Probe Droid/Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV)
The Galactic Empire likes to keep tabs on a lot of places and a lot of people. When you have as many citizens to oppress as the Sith-run Empire in the Star Wars saga, you have to have something intimidating and practical for all your espionage and suppressive needs. Enter the Imperial Probe droid. These floating machines with their many spidery legs and multiple optical sensors are as capable of scouting the most desolate, out of the way local as they are of patrolling the crowded streets of big cities. The Probe droid comes in a variety of deadly and dangerous flavors, and all of them spell danger for any Rebels rooting around, looking to stir up trouble. High above the skies of our world, we have the UAV or unmanned drone. These machines can be autonomous, but are more often than not, remote piloted by skilled military operators thousands of miles away. These machines can perform tactical assessments of an area and even deliver a devastating payload with incredible accuracy all while keeping human pilots out of harm’s way. The ethics of such machine use aside, they have also led to the proliferation of household quad drones as well as drones being used by businesses and local governments to not only deliver goods, but to make repairs to and inspect infrastructure such as power lines, and to even assist in filming for movies and TV.
There you have it. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but there are a handful of unique droids, all designed to outdo the human form. It is truly incredible to see the dialogue between real life and the science-fantasy of Star Wars. We now live in a world where the machines we see on the screen are a reflection of our hopes, desires, and dreams. At the same time, we see the machines on the screen, with such amazing capabilities, being handled every day and in our own lives — I am writing this as my vacuum scurries about the house, cleaning my floors and vexing my poor dog.
It is truly exciting to see not only where the droids of Star Wars go as the franchise continues to grow and expand, but to see where our own developments in robotics go as a result.