November 21, 2014

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – What better on “Throwback Thursday” than for John A. Logan College science students to get a firsthand look at electronics icons, R2/D2 and Ms. Pac-Man?

When the movie, Star Wars, burst onto the scene in 1977, Americans were enthralled with the technology and graphics evident on the big screen. One of the stars of the movie and subsequent Star Wars sequels was an android robot known as R2/D2.

The short, stumpy, lovable computerized unit served as wingman for Luke Skywalker when he destroyed the Death Star in the original movie.

Nearly 40 years later, the Star Wars craze has yet to subside. For example, there are builders clubs throughout the world whose members specialize in constructing R2/D2 replicas. One such builder is James Chaklos of Makanda.

On the request of JALC student Jessa Gramenz, Chaklos and his prize robot, R2/N3, paid a visit to the Carterville-based campus.

“I saw an article in the Daily Egyptian about Mr. Chaklos,” Gramenz said. “And then I had the bright idea to contact him and ask him if he could bring his replica to the school to help build awareness for our club’s Thanksgiving food drive. I was excited when he said yes.”

Chaklos said he has been working on the droid for the best part of 10 years.

“I’ve invested anywhere from $15,000 to $17,000 altogether in this project,” he said. “I’ve always loved the idea of building a droid and was happy to find a builder’s club when I searched on Yahoo. I enjoy opportunities like these to get out and show the unit off to the kids. I don’t know if they enjoy it more or the adults.”

JALC electronics instructor Rob Craig dabbles in retro projects of his own. He brought to his class a refurbished Ms. Pac-Man game on Thursday.

“I bought it at an arcade auction in St. Louis,” he said. “It used to be some kind of redemption game. I ripped all the junk out and put in a new computer and monitor. Next week at our Gamer’s Club on campus, I am going to show how I wired the control panel.”

Ms. Pac-Man debuted in the United States in 1982. It is largely identical to the original Pac-Man. The player earns points by eating pellets and avoiding ghosts. Eating an energizer pellet causes the ghosts to turn blue, allowing them to be eaten for extra points.

Debra Hess, who teaches electrical courses and robotics at Logan, said seeing mechanical marvels like Ms. Pac-Man and R2/D2 replicas most definitely spark student interest.

“The kids love them,” she said. “Seeing these projects in person allows students to see what they might be able to build someday with their electrical engineering and electronics degrees. Rob was a student here, for example, and now he teaches.”

Craig said the Ms. Pac-Man unit took him about three months to get up to speed and only cost him about $500 total.