Why Do We Love R2-D2 and Not C-3PO?


Why do we love R2-D2? Simple. R2 is the right mix of man and machine. Clive Thompson from Smithsonian Magazine explains:

Many Star Wars characters loom large in the imagination—the sepulchral Darth Vader, the swaggering Han Solo, the take-charge Princess Leia. But one character implausibly worked its way into people’s hearts: R2-D2.

With its stubby little body, blooping voice and wide round eye, R2-D2 was a curiously endearing machine. Fans went crazy for the droid, knitting winter hats in its shape and building computer cases that looked like its body. Even Star Wars actors went a bit googly-eyed when they were on the set alongside the droid.

“There is something about R2-D2,” as the robot’s original designer, Tony Dyson, has said, “that people just want to cuddle.”

In 1983, when Return of the Jedi was released, Smithsonian curator Carlene Stephens wanted to preserve an artifact from this pop-cultural moment. The Smithsonian contacted Lucasfilm executives, who sent over one of their R2-D2 models, along with its companion, C-3P0. The R2-D2 pictured here is now part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.

But what precisely is the source of R2-D2’s allure? There are plenty of movie robots. Few stir emotions as richly as this one—particularly given that it looks, as Stephens jokes, “like an industrial vacuum cleaner.”

Yet that might be the secret to its appeal. To understand R2-D2, you have to wrap your mind around a theory called “the uncanny valley.”

The concept was first posed in 1970 by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. He’d noticed that as robots grow more realistic, people’s attitudes toward them change. When a robot is toylike and capable of only simple, humanlike gestures, we find it cute. If it starts looking and acting a bit more human, we find it even more endearing. But if it gets too human—as with, say, a rubbery prosthetic hand—we suddenly shift allegiance. We find it creepy. Our emotional response plunges into what Mori called the uncanny valley.

Why would overly realistic robots so unsettle us? When they become nearly human, we start focusing on the things that are missing. We notice that the arms don’t quite move as smoothly as a real human’s, or the skin tone isn’t quite right. It stops looking like a person and starts looking like a zombie. Angela Tinwell, a professor specializing in video game design at the University of Bolton in Britain, suspects we unconsciously detect sociopathy or disease.

Mori saw a way out of this conundrum. The most engaging robot would be one that suggested human behavior, but didn’t try to perfectly emulate it. Our imaginations would do the rest, endowing it with a personality that we could relate to.

In essence, Mori perfectly predicted the appeal of R2-D2.

Read more.

Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in! adafruit.com/mastodon

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community! http://adafru.it/discord

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers – CircuitPython.org

Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at AdafruitDaily.com !

1 Comment

  1. Nah this is wrong. C3PO and R2D2 were a team. They were Abbot and Costello.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.