So, how does it work? The demo on stage at Star Wars Celebration went off without a hitch, but they didn’t design this robot from scratch. Perhaps you’ve heard of Sphero? This is a small spherical robot that can be controlled with a smartphone. They’ve been available for around $100 for several years, made by a company from Boulder, Colorado. Apparently, Disney CEO Bob Iger saw Sphero’s technology on display at a Disney business accelerator program and thought it would be great for Star Wars. He was right, because again, BB-8 is adorable.
BB-8 looks like a scaled-up version of the Sphero with the addition of the head segment on top. We can surmise that the movement is the same, which means B-88 is driven around by two independently-controlled rubber wheels inside that move the the shell. There are no details on how the head works, but it probably has something to do with magnets inside the top slip bearing that keeps the wheels pressed against the wall of the sphere.
Getting a toy company to make the BB-8 prop is a genius move on Disney’s part not only because they didn’t have to invent a new piece of technology, but because they also have the licensed Star Wars toy ready to be commercialized and sold. You can bet BB-8 toys are going to be on store shelves this holiday season.