Sphero makes science fiction a reality with Star Wars robot

If you’re a fan of the movie “Star Wars”, there’s a good chance you dreamt of owning a piece the movie when you were younger. Your dreams may still return, but there’s new hope because when the force awakens, you might get to strike that off your bucket list.

The next Star Wars movie is out later this year in December, but you might get to play with technology shown in the movie long before cinemas get the next episode in the long running franchise, provided you can get them before they all sell out.

This week, the company is releasing a toy equivalent of something rolling right out of “The Force Awakens”, and to see what we’re talking about, it’s worth checking out the trailer of that next Star Wars movie below (and even if you’ve seen it a few times, go watch it again).

At 30 seconds into the trailer, you’ll see a little ball roll across the screen. That is BB-8, and while fan favourites R2-D2 and C3PO are sure to make an appearance in the film, BB-8 is the new robot that will grab the attention of fans this year.

But while you couldn’t get R2D2 in a robotic form when you were a kid, you will be able to get BB-8 as an adult. Or even for your kids. But mostly for yourself.


Above is what Sphero’s BB-8 will look like, and while he’s a little smaller than the model that is appearing in the movie, this one — the one that you can buy in Australian stores — will be able to roll around either by himself or if you control him because he is a robot.

Speaking to Sphero about the concept, it’s a very similar gadget to the thing that started Sphero down its track of making modern robotic toys, with the original Sphero ball reinventing the remote control vehicle by turning it into a ball that rolled where your phone or tablet told it to.

More than just another drone-like device, the Sphero remote control ball could teach people how to program, relying on macro commands and BASIC level programming to get kids and adults thinking and working like a programmer.


Looking at BB-8, it’s clear where the inspiration is drawn because the character is essentially a robotic ball with a head on top. In fact, Sphero’s developers have had to throw a few bits and pieces here and there inside this one, while also pulling back on the programming side of things to build what is in essence an interactive robotic toy.

As such, there is actually a small metal post inside BB-8 that connects to his magnetic head sitting up top, allowing the unit to keep the head up top as the ball spins when he moves.

In the brief pre-production play through we had with Sphero’s BB-8, we found his head leaned forward quite a bit as he rolled, though its developers did say they were ironing out bugs which could lead to a fix for this.

Certainly, though, the setup of BB-8 as a functioning rolling robot straight from the film was something that made our eyes light up, and recalled the first time we saw a Star Wars astromech droid and said “I want one of those now!”

Remote control is one part of the package, but you’ll also be able to let BB-8 roll around you home doing his thing, patrolling the area until he runs out of charge. We’re not quite sure what your parents will think of this, or even what your pets, but this extra mode could make BB-8 feel more like a pet or an interactive friend, as if you have your own incarnation of the Star Wars droid, even at a smaller scaled size.

Another neat feature arriving on Sphero’s BB-8 will be a holographic mode.

It is here that you’ll probably recall one scene from the first Star Wars movie because that’s where the inspiration comes from.

Unfortunately, the technology isn’t there to make this happen just yet, not in real life — sorry, no holographic imagery yet, people — but Sphero has tried to find a middle ground, provided you have a smartphone or tablet running either Apple iOS or Google’s Android.

As a point, it’s assumed you probably do, not just because it’s a regular thing to have a smartphone these days, but also because to control Sphero’s BB-8, you need a smartphone or tablet running either iOS or Android.

When you use the phone or tablet with the holographic mode, you’ll be able to hold the device over BB-8 and see an augmented reality holographic video being emitted from the real-life BB-8. It’s about as close to a hologram as you’re going to get.

Better, you’ll be able to record your own videos for playback, though we’re told these will stay on your device and won’t be shareable, due to how sneaky some people might choose to be.


Still, it’s a great little addition to an otherwise fantastic incarnation, and we’re told there will even be voice controls programmed in, allowing you to talk to BB-8 to get him to do things, just like if you were speaking to your own droid.

Patrol mode can also show you how the sensors in the robot are working, and as a cute little addition, BB-8’s head will even twitch and move as if the robot were a living thing.

Battery life on Sphero’s BB-8 is said to be a good hour, with charging taking around three hours on a conductive plate designed in an image right out of Star Wars.

As for pricing, you’ll find this one available this week in stores for a recommended retail price of $249.99, and while that might seem like a hefty price to pay for a toy, this is about the most interactive Star Wars toy you’ll probably see, feeling like it has rolled straight out of the movie.

For geeks, that’s about a dream come true. Now you’ll just need to find one before they run out, which given the hype around Star Wars is more or less a guarantee.