The Story (And Tech) Behind That Awesome Star Wars BB-8 Toy
R2-D2 is an icon—he’s quite possibly the Star Wars character with the broadest appeal across generations, a mix of humorous personality and key narrative function. But BB-8, the little duo-spherical robot from the upcoming Episode VII: The Force Awakens, is coming to blow up R2’s spot and steal the hearts and minds of Star Wars fans everywhere. At a product preview this morning at ILM’s offices in San Francisco, licensing executives ran through a wide selection of the avalanche of the Star Wars products available tomorrow on “Force Friday.” But though there are collectible figures, lightsabers, Lego kits, Hot Wheels, a Millennium Falcon quad-copter, board games, and so much more, there’s an entire dedicated BB-8 range of collectibles and apparel. You can buy him as a soap dispenser, a plush doll, even a suitcase.
But the big-ticket item—the one that has already been reported sold out in Tokyo—isn’t from Hasbro, Mattel, or Lego. It’s an app-controlled miniature robot of BB-8 created by robotics company Sphero.
Sphero already makes an eponymous toy robot (as well as a more off-road-ready model called Ollie), but how it came to develop a BB-8 variant is a story of serendipity. The company entered last year’s inaugural class of Disney’s Accelerator tech-development program, which helps companies expand their offerings using the creative library of Disney properties–and on the second day of the three-month program, a meeting with Disney CEO Bob Iger changed everything. “When it’s our time to meet with him, it’s just Sphero’s two founders, myself, and Bob Iger,” says Paul Berberian, Sphero’s CEO. “He opens up his iPhone, and he starts showing dailies [from The Force Awakens] and water-marked photos that nobody has seen other than the people directly involved with the movie.” Iger pointed to the rolling droid, BB-8, and asked the Sphero crew if they could make it.
At the time, not even Sphero’s mentors in the Accelerator had heard of BB-8. “If you were a Disney executive, and you didn’t have a direct relationship with Lucas and the Star Wars project, it was on a need-to-know basis,” says Berberian. “So a lot of our mentors—executives from different groups within Disney that we were talking to—weren’t even aware of this character.”
Sphero obtained the Star Wars license in November, and spent the next 10 months working at hyperspeed in order to deliver a product on time for the Force Friday launch. Despite a visual similarity between BB-8 and Sphero’s original eponymous robot, the process wasn’t nearly as simple as putting a magnetic head on top of the original robot design. The company shifted to Bluetooth to save energy, so the internal electronics changed. Maintaining a 100-foot range was difficult due to space capabilities inside BB-8. And as for BB-8’s head floating atop the body, Sphero achieved that through what Berberian calls a “pseudo-inverted pendulum mechanism” to make sure it move the right way.
The result, especially paired with the Star Wars music and animation in the mobile app that controls the BB-8 toy, is adorable and surprisingly impressive. It’s a little overwhelming to see the array of products Disney has lined up from every major licensor under the sun, but BB-8’s live demo was the only gasp-inducing moment of the entire presentation. And since the app that can be updated down the line, the experience of using, playing, and living with this little robot isn’t a finite window—it’ll provide more holographic messages and content as The Force Awakens‘ December release date approaches.
It’s one thing to buy a static representation of a character—even one so advanced it was created with full-body scans of actors. It’s another thing entirely to be able to purchase a miniature that convincingly mimics the character’s on-screen behavior. In the tidal wave of products from all the top toy manufacturers in the world with decades-long legacies creating Star Wars toys, Sphero’s BB-8 is the only truly cutting-edge item on the shelves. This is the Tickle-Me Elmo moment for The Force Awakens: The little guy may carry a hefty $150 price tag, but come Black Friday sales in November, and it’ll be flying off the shelves faster than the Millennium Falcon completed the Kessel run.
Visit source –