J.J. Abrams surprised and delighted Star Wars fans last week by revealing that the rolling and tumbling robot seen in the latest :Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer is actually a real rolling and tumbling robot and not just a piece of CG artistry. Naturally, it would inspire not only lovable merchandise somewhere down the line but even attempts at making one as early as now. That is probably the inspiration that took hold of industrial designer Christian Poulsen as he transformed a relatively nondescript Sphero robot ball into what could be the next most loved robotic mascot of the franchise.
It probably helps that the Sphero robot is already a rolling and tumbling ball of fun, but it still need a bit of work to make look like BB-8. He did have to cut it up a bit to make that happen. And for the head, well it’s actually a bit ingenious to some extent. It’s simply attached to the ball with a magnet, strong enough not to let it fall off but still loose enough so that it remains on top even while the ball spins wildly around. Well, almost on top.
One of the niceties of building it off the Sphero is that Poulsen gets to control it using his smartphone via the official mobile app. No additional work or programming required on that front. Poulsen was even kind enough to leave instructions on how other tinkerers can follow in his footsteps. Provided they own a Sphero already of course. And are willing to part ways with how the Sphero was intentionally designed to work.
The BB-8 revelation came as a pleasant surprise considering how the three recent Star Wars films used CG for almost all their robotic needs. A real, working robot feels like both a homage to the original trilogy and a return to an almost forgotten art. Naturally, we expect to see some toys in the near future that will capitalize on this robot that’s on a roll. For now, Poulsen and whoever follows his instructions will have the privilege of claiming to be the first to have one.