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A Doctor Who's who of robot characters

WHEN someone mentions robots, images are instantly conjured up of NASA, CSIRO, Doctor Who and Star Wars.

But in a galaxy not so far away - in fact in a workshop in Gladesville - a group of self-confessed geeks get together twice a week to build their own quirky creations, from daleks to R2-D2s.

The founder of the group, Dave Everett, has been building robots for more than 40 years. He began tinkering with remote-controlled car toys as a seven-year-old.

Since then Everett, now 49, has founded the R2-D2 Builders Club and the Sydney Robot Workshop, organisations that have spawned offshoots around the world with more than 12,000 members. ''Robotics is probably the hardest hobby you could imagine,'' he says. ''There are so many possibilities.''

The club has even attracted the attention of the Star Wars director, George Lucas. Far from filing a copyright lawsuit, Lucas commissioned them to build promotional robots for his production company, Lucasfilm. The club is also a major exhibitor at Star Wars Celebration, an official fan convention that takes place every few years at different locations around the world.

The group started in Everett's garage about 10 years ago, and has grown to include similar gatherings in Melbourne, New York and Los Angeles.


Most of the robots built are remote-controlled models rather than automated robots that are able to compute for themselves. But Everett, a special effects technician and theatrical armourer, works on both. His latest project is a recycling robot being built at the University of Alabama, which can locate and dispose of recyclable waste.

Building robots is not just the domain of computer nerds, though. It attracts many punters keen to have a tinker and reminisce about their youth. ''I've tried to make it as easy as possible for people to do this,'' Everett says. ''People with no experience have built robots.''

Once perceived as a hobby of the elite, building your own robot can, in fact, be a relatively cheap pastime.

For those willing to do most of the labour, a model robot can be built for less than $1000.

An automated robot can be cheaper, at about $500, as builders are not constrained to the look and feel of an existing concept.

Automated or not, it is the infinite possibilities that keep these guys coming back for more. ''There's always something else you want to try with it,'' Everett says. ''It's a hobby that will never end.''