Cabbage Patch Kids.
Soon to be added to the list of toys that could make kids disown their parents if they don’t get it as a holiday or birthday present: Sphero’s remote control BB-8 droid.
The plaything, expected to be priced around $150, is among the litany of Star Wars: The Force Awakens products being revealed as part of the “Force Friday” merchandise announcement, which spans everything from LEGO kits to Hasbro action figures and even pet toys. (That is, toys that your pet plays with.)
Sphero’s BB-8 is a different kind of pet toy, an action figure that seems like a lovable creature. (And will probably make your actual pets feel neglected and jealous.)
The ball droid character, which was first glimpsed last November in the movie’s teaser trailer, tearing across the sandy, rocky surface of the planet Jakku, became an instant fan favorite — even though no one knew anything about its personality or role in the story.
There were audible gasps in the Anaheim convention center’s auditorium when a real version of the rolling robot made an appearance on stage this April at the Star Wars Celebration fan event alongside director J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and R2-D2. Wait… this thing isn’t a digital effect?
The Sphero toy isn’t as large as the beachball-sized BB-8 that appeared with Abrams and Kennedy. The Sphero version is baseball-sized. More of a mini-me.
The movie version of BB-8 is sentient, but Sphero’s version is controlled by way of an app on your tablet or smartphone. The little guy is also voice activated and can respond to some basic commands. The toy can also record and project what look like holographic images when viewed through your mobile device screen.
The toy races forward by way of internal gyroscopic propulsion (a fancy way of saying there are rollers spinning it from the inside, kind of like a hamster on a wheel.) Batteries aren’t included, they’re embedded. Sphero’s droid comes with a small stand for inductive charging and has an hour-long battery life.
Kennedy says Lucasfilm got connected with Sphero through Disney’s CEO Bob Iger, who caught wind of the company’s rolling robot toys and said it seemed like a good fit given their plans to introduce something similar with BB-8.
The droid itself was conceived by Abrams, who sketched out two balls on top of each other with a cycloptic single eye. “I named him BB-8 because it was almost onomatopoeia,” Abrams told EW. “It was sort of how he looked to me, the 8 and the two B’s. I came up with it early on, and it just stuck.”
From there, The Force Awakens concept designer Christian Alzmann stepped in and borrowed some influence from soccer balls for the body, while designer Jake Lunt Davies and chief monster-manufacturer Neal Scanlan of the movie’s “creature shop” tried to figure out how to create it in real life.
There were many versions of BB-8 on the movie: some digital, some puppets, some locked in place, some immobile dummies, depending on what was necessary for any given shot. But they also came up with the freewheeling model, known as the “red carpet” BB-8, who spins and plays seemingly on its own. (Pay no attention to the guys behind the curtain.)
From the moment the droid rolled onstage last April, it was clear: What Star Wars fan wouldn’t want one of these?
Now Sphero is making it possible to hold BB-8’s fate in your own hands.
If you can find one.
For more Star Wars coverage, follow @Breznican
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