If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the few million people who received a remote controlled BB-8 toy this Christmas. They are being hailed as the beginning of the next generation of toy, namely because of what it does. It’s a spherical, free rolling ball that mimics his on-screen persona in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Even before the toy’s release on Force Friday earlier this year, people already fell in love with BB-8 when he was first introduced at Star Wars Celebration.
The simple answer is that it was something that seemed to defy physics, something that people haven’t seen before.
The more complex answer was that it the droid was a mechanical marvel, a never-before-seen product of science and technology put harmoniously together.
What audiences saw when BB-8 rolled out on stage for the first time was due to the technical Jedi from Lucasfilm and a company called Sphero (from the Disney’s incubator Accelerator program) who worked endlessly for years to develop, design, build, and test the droid. New, custom technology emerged to ultimately make the final working product. It took more time after that for Sphero to develop the toy version of the droid that you now have rolling around your house.
But how exactly does BB-8 work? What is the exact science of his inner workings?
Movie trademarks are usually a closely guarded secret and rightfully so as Disney is making a tremendous amount of money off the droid. That didn’t stop a few designers in Spain to investigate and tinker themselves.
After some time, those two designers, Carlos Sánchez and Emilio Gelardo, created a website with their findings. The site is simply called “How Does BB-8 Work” and walks visitors through the concept of BB-8 as it originally appeared on a sketch J.J. Abrams made on a napkin to the patents that were filed to make the “magnetic spherical robot drive” that makes the droid work.
There’s also a fun interactive element on the site that allows you to see how the technology works in a 3D model the designers created.
It’s a really fun and digestible to go through the content and does give some valuable insights to curious new droid owners. At the very least, you’ll get an appreciation for the new droid. After all, it was the simple desire for director J.J. Abrams to use a real working droid for the actors to interact with while filming. Little did he know that he would spur on the career of a new “actor” and toy phenomenon in the process.
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