LSU grad serves beer from homemade robot
During home game weekends, tailgating LSU fans have lined up on the back of the parade grounds near the university’s visitor center to grab a beer, snap pictures, or just party with a light-up, spinning, 4-foot-tall replica of Star Wars’ R2D2.
Barton Gilley, a 27-year-old, 2009 LSU sculpture graduate who now works at his family’s art gallery near the intersection of Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway, created what he calls R2Dkeg in 2010 as a way to distinguish his tailgate.
However, recent attention has propelled the creation into the spotlight with photos of the robot keg ending up on such national websites as The Huffington Post. The project, a mix of painted steel and plastic, found fame after photographs of the creation from the LSU versus Washington game went viral.
Public relations officials from Lucasfilm didn’t respond to initial requests for comment about whether Gilley’s robot infringes on copyrights and Gilley steered clear of discussing whether the “Star Wars” movie franchise was his source of inspiration.
The machine uses sonar to detect when an object — most often a plastic cup — is under its spout, triggering the head to spin, LED lights to flicker, music to play and beer to flow. The beer travels from the keg housed inside of the contraption into the cup until the tailgater chooses to remove it from under the spout.
As Gilley’s friends or bystanders wait for a full cup, his robot will shake its left hand, which is equipped with a tip jar, a simple form of reimbursement for the beer and the nearly $700 Gilley has put into the creation.
“I’ve been picking stuff apart since I was a kid,” Gilley explained. “I’ve just always been very fascinated by how stuff works and why they work.”
The robot didn’t always run so smoothly.
It took multiple attempts for Gilley to figure out how to keep the levels of foam down once the beer poured from the machine. After he solved that problem, he faced another, and another and another.
He tried using a push spout, like that on a restaurant’s drink dispenser, but the lever would get stuck from being doused by a day’s worth of beer. Eventually, Gilley figured he would add a motion detector to the contraption’s beer release.
He struggled to keep the beer cold. Instead of using a full keg, Gilley settled on a half keg, leaving enough space for ice to populate the robot’s lower region.
The wiring and computer-based technology of the machine also proved too much for Gilley. For this, he said he turned to LSU Radiation Safety Research specialist Richard Teague, who holds a degree in electrical engineering. Teague explained how to wire the robot so the lights would come on when triggered. He then left Gilley to his own devices.
Teague said he has been helping out the LSU College of Art and Design for years with ceramics work or electrical issues like Gilley’s because of his background in the field.
Nearly two football seasons, one missed game and many frustrating delays later, Gilley’s robot is functioning smoothly.
“I know there’s probably a simpler way to do some of the stuff, but that’s kind of the steps I had to take,” Gilley said.
Gilley used the resources available to him to make his machine. For example, a bicycle chain lines the inside of R2Dkeg’s head and the motor from a car window moves the top along a track, causing it to spin from side to side when triggered.
R2Dkeg isn’t the first time Gilley has tried his hand at robotics.
The workshop behind his house, where he stores all of his creations, contains shelves that house silicon faces. One bears an eerie resemblance to its creator; another is the spitting image of President Barack Obama.
“RObama,” as Gilley calls it, was his senior art project at LSU. When he turned the device on, the rubber skin of the president would be removed, revealing a terminatorlike machine face underneath. He emphasized the design wasn’t political, only an act of amusement.
In the corner, standing 7 feet, is another steel robot with a bucket head and long, slender fingers. When plugged in, the robot lights up, opening its chest and revealing an empty cavity.
Many of Gilley’s former creations no longer work because he used their parts to finish his R2Dkeg, his focus at the moment. Gilley is excited about the attention his robot has received, noting his hard work is paying off after more than two years.