Remember when robotics had a brief spike in popularity? Years ago, we had the aibo (which coincidentally sounds a lot like amiibo) from Sony, those RoboSapiens, and of course the build your own cyber toys. Hell even LEGO had those neat MindStorm packages where you could even build yourself a working R2-D2.
But then they slowly died down. The hype blended back in. Save for a few new developments in drone technology and huge scientific advancements in robotic servants and decoys or cleaning appliances, they fell out of the limelight.
That is until now. Sphero, who originally started out at Orbotix, made a small splash a year or so ago with an app controlled intuitive ball droid. You could play with it, control it with your phone and well not much else. Again it seemed that would be it for robot enabled distractions.
But most recently Sphero teamed up with Disney, and what they’ve designed and come up with might very well be the return of something truly fantastic. When originally shown designs for the production model of BB-8 for the Star Wars film The Force Awakens, Sphero was tasked to create something along those lines that was consumer grade. It only took 24 hours for them to come back with a concept which is what we’re seeing right now.
A handheld officially licensed Star Wars BB-8 Droid retailing for $149.99. The price may seem steep, but if you really think about the hardware and programming involved, maybe not so much. The robot operates pretty much the same way their original Sphero ball robot. Only of course with the “head” of BB-8 magnetically attached to its body. It’s able to glide with the head in place thanks to rollers that let the magnet hold the head in place without stopping the rolling motion. Check out the video preview above from Sphero and the slideshow below.
Most notably of the droid is that it has an hour of life, runs with an app and Bluetooth technology with a range of up to 30m, and powered using gyroscopic propulsion. So you’ll see him rock backwards before going forward. He also easily charges with a inductive charging base.
BB-8 doesn’t just drive around. It actually interacts with itself, the environment, and you the operator. It chirps and whistles as it explores it’s surroundings. Whether controlled by you or in patrol mode, it becomes a robotic pet you just let loose and kinda forget about until you hear it crash into something and start cussing out the obstruction.
It’s a sturdy design that even from small heights, doesn’t hurt the bot. Aside from app control and self patrol, it’s capable of receiving voice commands and it even has a neat little AR “holographic” mode that enables you to record a message and through the use of your smart device can view it as he moves within frame.
Despite the fact that you could potentially lose interest in the little guy after a few hours and paying close to $200, the BB-8 seems to be the return of a bot that has more personality than functionality. You have to remember this isn’t the first time Disney has sold an expensive robotic toy. They regularly release robotic versions of their popular franchises like Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and the Incredibles with the help of Thinkway Toys. Those toys run around $100, and some can be remote or voice controlled and act on their own.
Currently you’ll be able to purchase the robot toy at midnight tonight leading up to what Disney is dubbing “Force Friday” for all participating retailers. Best Buy, Apple, and a few other retailers will stock Sphero’s BB-8 droid but be aware there are cheaper versions of the same figure that are not the same toy. So if you want this one, you’ll be paying the retail price of $149.99.
This clearly seems to be the toy of the holiday season. After all we’ve fought over ticklish Elmos other weird toys. But it begs the question, when will we see a larger more detailed and intricate model? One can only hope, in a galaxy not so far away.