Maine man builds R2-D2 unit to ease the suffering of sick children

May The Fourth Be With You

May 4 is International Star Wars Day
Mon, 05/04/2015 - 8:00am

BANGOR — Any Star Wars fans out there? For International Star Wars Day, apparently, this is the droid you’re looking for.

We discovered Paul J. Bussiere, an Orrington resident, at last week’s Bangor Comic and Toy Conference. He displayed his R2-D2 at the event to the delight of many little (and grown up) kids who wanted to touch it and pose with it.

It took five years to build this 200-pound aluminum R2-D2 unit himself, from blueprints he got from a builder’s club.

“Essentially it was like a big jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “I had to collect a lot of parts and pieces and fit them all together. But, I was on my own when it came to the lighting and electronics.”

Made almost entirely of aluminum, the goal was to build an autonomous, PC-powered robot that will "act" like the R2-D2 we all know from the movies.

Bussiere is a self-described “computer geek,” robot builder, licensed private pilot and huge sci-fi movie fan. He also believes strongly in "paying it forward.” He has built two all-aluminum R2-D2s and since 2011, has done pediatric visits and numerous charity visits with fan-favorite droid character. 

When Bussiere was in his early 20s, his 6-year-old godson, Jake, passed away from brain cancer. “When I saw all the suffering he was going through, I also saw so many people going out of their way to make this little boy happy,” he said. These experiences led him to build the iconic droid as a way to bring happiness to kids who were suffering.

He has brought C-3PO’s best friend to the Pediatric Division of Eastern Maine Medical Center, the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland and the Kids' Corner-Community Early Care and Learning Facility in Bar Harbor.

”I built this R2-D2 with the idea in mind that he would entertain kids,” said Bussiere. “I had to make sure the paint could withstand disinfectant. I also had to make sure the radio controls wouldn’t interfere with the hospital’s equipment. There was a lot of homework involved.” 

Not surpisingly, it has been a huge hit with kids in hospitals - some of whom have never even seen the original Star Wars trilogy. “It’s the last thing they expect coming through the door," he said.

The challenges of moving the droid around the state for charity work have ranged from wear and tear on the unit while on the road to having no help to unload it. (It weighs 400 pounds). He has also volunteered a lot of time into personal appearances and needs to now scale back. For those reasons, Bussiere now has to be selective in which events he chooses to bring his R2-D2 to.

On his blog, he recalled one of the most significant moments traveling with his droid. Last year, he’d been invited to bring it to the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s tribute to John Williams, the composer of all of the Star Wars movies. "One moment that really, really stands out to me is this....a father and his blind, adolescent son was there,” wrote Bussiere. “The father was describing R2-D2 to the son, so I drove R2 toward them. The father kept motioning for R2 to come closer, so I did. The father put his son's hands on R2 and the boy's face just exploded in a huge smile. He gently touched the sides of the dome, the eye, the holographic projector....it was awesome. A lot of people saw this and commented to me about how wonderful it was. I completely agree. I cherish moments like that and it makes all the time and effort to build R2 so worth while.”

Here’s the Bangor PechaKucha back story of how the unit was built.

Click on Bussiere’s blog to see the adventures of taking R2-D2 all around New England.


Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com