How in the world does BB-8 work?

Hailing frequencies open… Forums Science Fiction Star Wars How in the world does BB-8 work?

This topic contains 7 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Flack 2 years, 9 months ago.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #1644

    I went looking; fortunately the internet does not disappoint. [LINK]

    For a droid enthusiast like myself, one of the best parts of the new Star Wars trailers has been the new little astromech droid, the ball-like BB-8. I’ve speculated about how that design could work before, but in the context of fiction. Now we know they actually built one. So, how did those kooky Imagineers do it?

    The physical, real-world droid was shown in Anaheim at the Star Wars Celebration, where JJ Abrams let the little guy out of his droid-cage to come out onstage and wow everyone with even a passing interest in How Stuff Moves And Stays Together. The robot demonstrated a very interesting range of motions — the ball moved around omnidirectionally, while the head pivoted and moved independently of the ball, clearly rolling on the unbroken surface of the sphere.

    So how, exactly, are they pulling this off? Clearly, some sort of Juggalo-baffling magnetic force is used to keep the head in place, but how is the motion controlled? And how does the head keep from rolling off?

    It’s that last question that had me completely flummoxed, because there are no rails or tracks to indicate that the head is physically connected to the body via some sturdy support mechanism. And seeing the thing move around for real just wasn’t answering my questions. 😆 Even the above explanation doesn’t quite cover everything, because the live demo included the head sliding up and down the sphere and turning.

    Um… I’m ready for the action figure. 😆

    Steve W
    Steve W
    • Offline

    There were faint sparks between his head and his round body as he rolled. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. I would think that the interior of the ball would have a gyroscopically stabilized R/C vehicle capable of omnidirectional movement, and with a stick that goes to the top of the ball and has electromagnets in it that keep the head from sliding off the body (maybe the bottom of its head is coated in casters or rollers).

    I just want to know if they can replicate this type of thing for the consumer market and churn out remote controlled BB-8 toys for Christmas.


    Sphero knows how BB-8 works. They’re going to make one that fits in your hand, just in time for Christmas, for $150. [LINK]

    Sphero CEO Paul Berberian confirmed rumors that Sphero is involved in the creation of BB-8 and that a retail version will be hitting stores later this year. Sphero (or rather Orbotix, as the company’s formal name goes), a Boulder-based startup that has received funding from Disney, is best known for its eponymous motorized ball, which users can control with their smartphones through Bluetooth.

    Gizmodo discovered a listing from a toy store (since removed) showing what could be Sphero’s BB-8 robot, along a $150 price tag and a September 1 release date. Separately, the New York Times reported that the Sphero BB-8 will be about the size of a large apple, though larger versions will be made that will be shown at Disney’s amusement parks.

    You can join Sphero’s pre-order mailing list here.

    Steve W
    Steve W
    • Offline

    $150 for a tiny version seems a bit much, considering it’s some gyroscopic stabilizers and remote control car parts inside a ball. They could probably bring it to market at full scale for $150. For one the size of an orange it seems like a price gouge.


    My thoughts exactly. Not the droid I’m looking for after all.

    • Offline

    This guy made one.

    A one day project for this guy. So it’s a lot easier than you would think. He just took a $129 Sphero, painted it, made the head out of foam (I think), stuck magnets in both and he was done.

    So Sphero is basically charging you $30 to add magnets and a head. Price gouge? Maybe. Certainely the $30 for the magnetic head is steep. Orbotix has been criticized in the past for having a high price (which has been $129 since it became available 4 years ago). This guy reviewed it and left the question to the reader on whether it was too expensive.



    • Offline

    My kids got me the remote control BB-8 for Christmas. It’s not as advanced as the full-size version, but I assume it works similarly.

    First of all, BB-8’s body comes apart in two halves. Inside is the “engine” that runs the thing. It takes 4AA batteries, so I wasn’t opening it just because I was curious. It’s not unlike a remote controlled car. It’s shaped different, but the idea is the same. I’ll take some pictures later when I unpack it from the luggage. The inside is free-wheeling, and has a strong magnet at the top. BB-8’s head is held on with magnets through the plastic casing, and points in whichever direction he is headed (because that’s the way the internal piece is facing). The remote has two parts — the left control steers left and right and the right control moves him forward and backward. The whole thing seems pretty magical when you first see it, but after you’ve opened it up it appears pretty normal.

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.