Posted on Friday, April 17th, 2015 by Russ Fischer
Everyone fell in love with the droid BB-8 at the Force Awakens panel that opened Star Wars Celebration yesterday. Seeing the droid live on stage was a huge treat, especially as many people had never considered the idea that it might be a practical effect.
We know that part of the work for BB-8 was done by Neal Scanlan, but Kathleen Kennedy also mentioned that Bob Iger of Disney had found the company whose tech made the character possible. Turns out, that company is appropriately called Sphero, based in Colorado. That company’s primary product is a big part of what makes the little guy go.
Sphero was brought into Disney’s “accelerator” program last year, which invests capital in promising startup tech companies. The process also pairs companies with a mentor at Disney; no surprise, Iger was paired with Sphero.
Fortune reports that the company, the name of which was revealed by Kennedy off-stage, is a “connected play company, fusing digital and physical play by creating toys and robots that you control with a smart device.”
So it’s pretty easy to see how that licensed tech plays into the creation of the Star Wars droid. The company has two primary products, one also called Sphero, which is described as “an app-controlled ball that does it all.” There are also vague indications that a toy or replica version will be available to purchase at some point in the future. Given that Sphero is already making a small toy, it’s not difficult to guess that there are big BB-8 licensing plans.
So how does it work? Here’s a graph of the guts of the toy version from Sphero, which features a gyroscope for stabilization. (Click to enlarge.) To make BB-8 there are some more elements — most likely magnets to keep the “head” in place, and some other mechanics to rotate the head. How Stuff Works has more talk about the droid. The specifics of the BB-8 tech may be a little more complex, as it needs to be able to perform, but the mechanics seem surprisingly simple to suss out. (If not to perfect.)
Here’s a marketing video from the company:
Or, you could just turn to the xkcd comic that proposed this very concept back in 2008:
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