The littleBits Competition: Droid Inventor Kit – The Lucasfilm Dream Trip and Pacific Coast Adventure

This summer my family and I had an opportunity to visit San Francisco and tour Lucasfilm headquarters. This blog post covers how we ended up there, what we saw on our trip and how my wife and I successfully wrangled our young kids from SF, to Legoland and Disneyland in SoCal. Two weeks is the longest our family has spent together in such close quarters. It was an exciting and challenging trip, the highlight of the year, and something we’d do again in a heartbeat.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….I entered a droid building competition with my kids and WON first place.

The Results Are In: Winners of National Competition Featuring the Droid Inventor Kit

The competition featured the littleBits Droid Inventor Kit and was run in collaboration with Lucasfilm.

The goal was to create a unique droid and was judged on the basis of creative materials, inventiveness and presentation.

The judges were:

Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO at littleBits
Kathleen Kennedy, president at Lucasfilm
Daisy Ridley, the actress who portrays Rey in the current Star Wars trilogy
Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who portrays Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Droid Inventor Kit was a Christmas gift from my mother to my 5 year old son, and was a fun introduction to the world of circuits and sensors. I am a member of the BB-8 Builders Club, and truly appreciate how easy littleBits has made it for kids to learn and get excited about droid building.


We wanted to make a functional droid that looked like it rolled off the set of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

This is MSE-BBIN. It was made using household items like cardboard, duct tape, as well as custom parts that were sculpted in Tinkercad and 3d printed. It self navigates using a proximity sensor bit, servo motor bit and dc motor bit. It broadcasts live video wirelessly over WiFi using a Raspberry Pi. It controls custom sounds and LED matrix animations with Arduino. In addition to cannon MSE droid sounds, we created some original sounds using a robot synth app called Bebot.

These droids were often used to for surveillance and carrying messages in vast Imperial ships and battle stations.

During the Battle of Crait, the MSE-BBIN series droids were compromised by Resistance fighters using a disguised BB unit. This vulnerability led to their discontinued use by the First Order, and they were sold off to scavengers for parts.

This is our video entry for the competition:

There were hundreds of submissions from the US, Canada and the UK. Since the kit was a Christmas present for my son, the timing to build and shoot a video was quite short for a January submission deadline. The droid took about 48hrs to design and build, and originally was going to be quite basic. Thankfully the submission deadline was extended, giving us enough time to add more advanced features like custom light animations, sound and video broadcasting.

One feature we didn’t have time to add to our video was a “blue smoke” gag, which would have been the cherry on top.

On Super Bowl Sunday I tweeted about the droid and this happened:

A couple days into March Break, my family found ourselves staring at each other in disbelief when I received an email saying we had placed first in the Jedi Master category of the competition. The prize was a vacation package to tour Lucasfilm Headquarters in San Francisco, including round trip travel, accommodation and a littleBits gift card.

Fast forward to August 2018: YYZ to SFO.

Tour of Lucasfilm Headquarters in the Presidio:

Lucasfilm’s campuses are working production facilities, and do not offer public tours. In preparing of what my family might expect I found this clip of Conan O’Brien’s visit to Lucasfilm several years ago:

A lot of what you see in this remote is what you see on the private tour, minus props and costumes from all the newer feature films that have been produced since then. While we didn’t get a chance to try on humbling lycra suits for motion capture, my favourite things we got to see were screen used props and costumes from classic movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batteries Not Included, and Jurassic Park. I was hoping to see the Millennium Falcon Experience, which is a full size replica of the of the interior of the ship that had made the Kessel Run, but the set was likely still in storage after being on display at SDCC weeks earlier. Our tour ended at the Lucasfilm company store, where you could buy swag and ILM VFX crew gear that is only accessible to employees. We also got coffee from the company coffee shop ‘Java the Hutt’, which helped battle the jet lag!

Here are some key photos from our tour:

ILM VFX has a giant wall of crew photos for every movie they’ve ever made spanning pre/post Photoshop eras. (One of the original creators of Photoshop also happens to be visual effects supervisor and CCO at ILM, John Knoll).


He chose…poorly. You can tell what props from Indiana Jones are screen used because of the barcodes.

*batteries not included. Non-SW props my 5yr old had seen before on the small screen thanks to Dad. 

Welcome to Jurassic Park. This T-Rex armature was used by motion animators to record movement and apply it to CGI dinosaurs. The rig is equipped with digital sensors that register their location, so when they move, their positions are being recorded. In a way it represents the early stages of motion capture technology. 

Slimer! This is the real deal from Ghostbusters, built circa 1984.

The spacecraft ‘Messiah’ from Deep Impact (1998). Each tiny tile on this model is numbered, just the space shuttles built by NASA. The gold foil is actually from the wrappers of Rolo chocolate candies.

Studio scale model of the NSEA Protector from Galaxy Quest (1999). Its serial number is listed as NTE 3120, ‘NTE’ is believed to be short for ‘Not The Enterprise.’

Know your T.I.E. Fighter.

Look sir, Droids! These are Don Post Studios Life-size statues. A lot of fan made droids rival the officially licensed models.

Finding Kid Friendly Things to Do in San Francisco after the Tour

We had a week of sightseeing in SF, and the San Fransisco CityPass was a great way to save money on attractions and skip line ups. If you can do a lot of sites in a short period of time, you can save a lot of money. With young kids we had to cherrypick our activities, and came out breaking even.

Pier 39

Aquarium of the Bay

Golden Gate Park Playground – Koret Children’s Quarter


California Academy of Sciences

Muir Woods National Monument

In addition to visiting Lucasfilm HQ, other bucket list items for Star Wars fans include travelling to film locations. Unfortunately a lot of Endor filming locations from “Return of the Jedi” don’t exist anymore due to logging. We got our Forest Moon experience by renting a car to drive up to Muir Woods. You must have a parking reservation (book early!). It’s best to get to the park as soon as it opens. We were about a 1/2 hr late for our reservation and the attendant still let us into the 3rd and last parking lot. I’ve also read from different sources if you can get to the park before it opens, parking is free. When we left around 11:30AM there was a long queue of cars waiting to park. By noon the park gets quite crowded, and you miss out on the magic of the morning fog and have the trees to yourself. The main trail is a wooden boardwalk, takes about 1.5 hrs to walk and is stroller friendly. Besides the size of the trees, the one thing that struck me was how quiet it was. It was like walking in a vacuum. We didn’t see or hear any animals or flying Ewoks.

Kid Friendly Places to Eat in San Fransisco

We were staying in Fishermans’ Warf and didn’t have a car so were were limited by where we could get to easily by foot and stroller.

Boudin Bakery

Carmel Pizza Co


In and Out Burger (Disappointing)

The PCH, Legoland and Disneyland

Since we were travelling all the way from Toronto, Canada, we wanted to make the most of our time in California, and take a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). We also promised our eldest IF we won the trip we’d take him to Legoland California and Disneyland, not realizing that it was nowhere near SF!

Choosing the right vehicle:

All the travel blogs will tell you to rent a convertible for driving on Route 1. If you have young kids, you’ll find it difficult to fit a car seat, a booster seat and a double stroller in a convertible. Also the temperature is quite cold even with the California sun, which would mean having to bundle the kids up in blankets. We rented a minivan which didn’t look cool in photos, but gave us more space than we needed. At least it didn’t coming in ‘metallic pea’.


We broke the drive to Legoland, California into two days (which worked out to about 8hrs of driving a day). 

Day 1

Carmel Beach

  • This is one of the few beaches along the highway, where you can park your car and walk down to the water.

Big Sur

  • Nepenthe. This is a restaurant and cafe with a view. We didn’t have reservations, so we had to press on because it was getting late and we were still 2 hours from our hotel.
  • Pfeiffer Beach. This famous beach is really hard to find because there are no signs and GPS doesn’t work. **North to South: You’ll see a sign which welcomes you to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. After that, on the right, you’ll see a sharp turning off Route One (Sycamore Canyon Road). There’s no sign from the road, just some mailboxes, but as you turn you’ll see a yellow sign says “Narrow Road, no RVs – Trailers.”** (directions via
  • Bixby Creek Bridge

San Luis Obispo (SLO)

  • We spent the night in what Oprah calls America’s happiest city.

Day 2

Santa Barbara

  • We had lunch at East Beach Tacos. This taco stand is built right next to a batting cage. The location is right off the highway, and we were lucky to get there before the lunch rush, because parking is limited. The tacos here are amazing.

Legoland is great for younger kids who aren’t quite ready for rollercoasters and intense theme park rides. Our favourite parts were Duplo Playtown, the discotheque hotel elevators, floor pressure pad fart buttons and the Imagination Zone that was filled with free play build stations. The Legoland Resort Hotel is a 30 second walk to the park and has themed rooms (our was Ninjago). The hotel has a daily scavenger hunt that give clues to unlocking a safe in your room that’s filled with mini Lego kits you can keep. The food at the park was good, our favourites being Bánh mì and Ramen noodle soup. The park is small enough that you can see most of it in a day, with small kids in tow.

The Modern Trilogy diorama at Star Wars Miniland. 

GIANT scale Original Trilogy dioramas at Star Wars Miniland. 

Last stop: Walley World. Disneyland was much busier than Legoland, and you NEED fast passes to skip the standby lines. Certain pass options include Photopass, which allow unlimited downloads of ride photos as well as shots taken by Disney’s staff photographers. We were able to visit “A Bug’s Land” at Disney California Adventure, before it was demolished to make way for a new Marvel superhero experience. Our favourite rides were Radiator Springs Racers, Star Tours, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters.

Escape from LAX.

ALL. THE. BITS. Redeemed our grand prize gift card from the Droid Inventor Kit competition. If I can hide these kits well, I hope to let Owen open these over the course of next year. The Avengers Kit and Korg Synth Kit will find their way under the tree soon. Looking forward to building more fun and weird inventions with my son.

Thank you to littleBits and Lucasfilm for this amazing experience. I have made memories on this trip with my family that will last a lifetime.