October 14, 2017
Like every other Star Wars movie before it, The Force Awakens will be all about lovable characters, amazing special effects, and, of course, toys.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters this December, and chances are pretty good you’ll see it. Like every other Star Wars movie before it, The Force Awakens will be all about lovable characters, amazing special effects, and, of course, toys.
And while lightsabers and action figures will surely be huge sellers this holiday season, the one toy that Star Wars fans large and small will likely want to get their hands on is the new $150 app-enabled miniature BB-8 droid by Sphero.
He’s too cute!
If you’re like me, you’ve watched each of the trailers and teaser trailers for The Force Awakens 78 times already, which means you already know who BB-8 is. But just to help refresh your memory, BB-8 is the roly-poly droid that looks a bit like a soccer ball with a hat.
And while we don’t know much about BB-8 just yet, one thing is for sure: He’s cute as hell. Seriously, every person who saw the little droid fell instantly in love with him.
How he works
The big to-do about BB-8, besides his ridiculously cute shape, is how his head stays stationary above his rolling body. In fact, when The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams rolled BB-8 on stage at the Star Wars Celebration in July, the Internet erupted with questions about how the droid’s head stayed put.
It turns out that BB-8’s head is connected to his body through a mix of midichlorians and magnets (but mostly just magnets). Yes, now you can thank magnets for both confounding The Insane Clown Posse and giving the world BB-8.
May the app be with you
Beyond its squee-inducing looks, BB-8 is a legitimately high-tech toy. Based on the same technology as the Sphero robotic ball, which has an electric motor inside, BB-8 connects to your iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth.
Once connected, you use the mobile BB-8 app to drive the droid like a remote control car. Even for someone as in tune with the Force as I am, though, BB-8’s controls aren’t exactly intuitive.
To move BB-8, you use an on-screen joystick that lets you roll the droid in whichever direction you want. In general, driving BB-8 is pretty easy, but it takes some getting used to. We’re not talking spending time in Dagobah with Yoda, but it’ll take a few minutes.
The app, which comes complete with Star Wars theme music and BB-8 sound effects, also includes pre-recorded actions that let BB-8 shake his head yes or no, do a figure eight, move in a square, and perform a faux scan of the room.
Help me BB-8, you’re my only hope
Like his droid cousin R2-D2, BB-8 can project holographic messages. But since BB-8 is just a toy (shhh, don’t tell him), he can’t actually project a hologram. Instead, you can use your smartphone to play a holographic message using augmented reality.
When you point your phone’s camera at BB-8, it looks like the message is coming from BB-8 on your handset’s screen. It isn’t, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with imagining it does.
Outside of that, BB-8 also has a patrol mode that lets him wander around doing his own thing without any need to interact with him. Amazingly, despite the fact that BB-8 is clearly a toy you control with your phone, he genuinely feels alive when he’s on patrol.
More than a few people to whom I showed the droid were excited to see him, and asked if he was actually real. Even my cameraman, who saw me set up BB-8 and connect him to my iPhone, treated him like a living being.
The thing that really sells you on BB-8 being alive, though, is his voice controls. Though not available in the beta software, BB-8’s voice controls let you tell him to move; if you yell “It’s a trap!” he will freak out and run away. (Bonus points if you say it in Admiral Ackbar’s voice.)
The BB-8 is waterproof and, according to Sphero, is incredibly durable. In fact, the droid can apparently survive a blow from a shotgun shell. Kids, don’t try this at home.
Bottom line: BB-8 is an incredible toy that, though expensive, is an absolute joy to play with. I’m a relatively mature 30-year old man and even I didn’t want to put the droid down. (Of course, I also go out in public dressed like a Jedi.) More important, though, is that the technology behind BB-8 is genuinely impressive.
In other words, if you’re a Star Wars fan, or you have one in your life, BB-8 is absolutely worth getting your hands on.
So grab one, and remember, the Force will be with you … always.