by Jim Lynch

The iPhone and the BB-8 Star Wars droid toy

Apr 22, 20155 mins
Consumer ElectronicsiPhoneRobotics

BB-8 is a new Star Wars: The Force Awakens droid toy from Disney that you can control with your iPhone

The new Star Wars movie “The Force Awakens” will hit theaters in December, and Disney is losing no time in preparing to sell gobs of new Star Wars merchandise. One of the new Star Wars toys is a droid from the movie that you can control with your iPhone. The droid has been dubbed BB-8 and looks a bit like a rolling beachball. Yes, Star Wars fans will finally have their own personal droid that they can control with their smartphone.

Brooks Barnes reports on BB-8 for the NY Times:

This is the story of how Robert A. Iger, chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, solved a technology problem — how to bring the new “Star Wars” droid BB-8 to toy shelves and Disney parks — by playing with a ball on his office carpet.

Just before his Sphero ball arrived, he had been poring over the designs for droids created for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the movie arriving in theaters in December. One in particular stood out: BB-8, a beeping, free-rolling, orange and white ball with a little half-sphere hat. But BB-8 was complicated. During the filming of the movie, it was a prop built on rollers and controlled by a puppeteer, he said.

So he asked his Sphero mentees — sworn to secrecy, of course — if they could solve the problem. They swiftly showed him a prototype. The iPhone-controlled BB-8 toys, about the size of a large Granny Smith apple, will be sold in Disney Stores and other specialty retailers this holiday season. (Eighty manufacturing steps are involved.) Disney declined to discuss the price.

More at the NY Times

Sphero has already taken notice of all the interest in BB-8 and has a page set up where you can sign up for email updates about the BB-8 droid toy.

Take a look at the BB-8 droid in action

If you haven’t seen the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer with the new droid, here it is. The video only has a brief shot of BB-8 but it looks very cool indeed:

There’s also a great video of BB-8 and R2D2 together on stage at a Star Wars celebration in Anaheim. R2 didn’t seem to enjoy sharing the spotlight with an uppity whippersnapper droid:

The Jalopnik site also has a fun and detailed analysis of the BB-8 droid:

There are three things you’d probably notice first about this droid from the brief look we get: it has a spherical main body, its head appears similar to other R-series droids we’ve seen many, many times in the Star Wars universe, and it’s a cute little fella. Let’s focus on the first two things, starting with its status and place in the R-series lineup.

For those of you unaware, there’s three main categorizations of robots/droids in the Star Wars universe: roughly humanoid-designed robots; short, barrel-bodied three-legged robots, and pretty much everything else. We’re going to focus on the short, cylindrical ones now. These are generally known as astromech droids, and the famous R2-D2 is a member of this group.

More at Jalopnik

A seventies kid envies the kids of today

Reading about the BB-8 droid makes me truly envious of today’s kids. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, when the first batch of Star Wars movies came out. But we never had smartphones or toys that could be controlled by them. About the closest things we had to BB-8 is remote-controlled toy cars from movies like Smokey and the Bandit or the TV show the Dukes of Hazzard. But neither of those things was as cool as the BB-8 droid being linked to an iPhone.

Oh sure, we had Star Wars action figures and that kind of stuff. But they were just plastic figures that you had to pose and move around yourself. While they were fun, they were also about as low-tech as you can get. That didn’t stop millions of kids from having fun with them, but I’m sure a lot of those kids would have happily given up their action figures to get their hands on a droid that they could control.

As cool as the BB-8 droid to looks, the adult in me wishes it could do more so I could justify buying one for…er…housework and that sort of stuff. Wouldn’t it be nice if the BB-8 toy was bigger and really did have some practical uses? For example, imagine if it could vacuum the house like a Roomba or float up into the air and fly around dusting all of the furniture? Parents everywhere would be fighting like cats and dogs to get their hands on a BB-8 droid toy…for the benefit of the children, of course.

Regardless of what we adults think of the utilitarian value of the BB-8 droid toy, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that Disney is probably going to sell zillions of them. The combination of the iPhone, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and a new toy is a potent one indeed! I suspect that there will be some seriously happy kids come Christmas morning, and there will be even happier Disney shareholders because of all those Star Wars toy sales.

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