BOULDER, Colo. — When the first trailer for the new “Star Wars” movie posted online, the Internet went berzerk. It was short and we didn’t get to see much, but “Star Wars” fans were hanging on every second.
One of the highlights was the 3-second clip of BB-8, the newest droid in the next installment of “Star Wars.” When it was time to figure how to make a toy version of BB-8, Disney looked to Sphero in Boulder.
Sphero invented a robotic ball about five years ago. When you look at the new BB-8 character, it seems like Lucas Films and Sphero were destined for each other.
The CEO of Sphero, Paul Berberian, gave me a demo at their headquarters in Boulder. He told me that they were already working on a way to balance objects on top of their Sphero ball when the head of Disney, Bob Iger, approached them about BB-8.
At that point nobody knew about BB-8. Iger started showing them pictures of the new character and it took Berberian a second to realize what he was even looking at.
“All of a sudden you just get this big smile on your face and you make the connection – oh my gosh this is going to be huge and we’re holding the technology to actually bring this thing to life!” said Berberian.
In less than a year they developed the BB-8 version of Sphero. It has a plastic half sphere that attaches via a magnet inside the ball. There are no robotics in the head, it’s controlled via those magnets inside the ball. The head turns side to side and stays on top while you control the ball around the room with your smartphone.
“I don’t know of many companies that get this kind of opportunity, it’s really kind of an unprecedented set of events,” added Berberian when asked about working with Disney.
The specialized app that controls the BB-8 also includes a mode that uses augmented reality, appearing to shoot holograms into thin air. You can record a video and BB-8 will appear to project that video from it’s head. It’s cool! Kids will love this.
There is also an autonomous mode. BB-8 will roam your home or office and collect data. It shows you real time data from the accelerometer, temperature sensor and will map it’s movements. This is a lot of fun and it’s one of the ways Berberian thinks toys like this could change the way our kids play.
“I think this is a huge leap forward in terms of play – kids are spending so much time focused on their tablet, you don’t want to rip the tech out of their hand you somehow want to make the technology a part of their life in the physical world,” said Berberian.
BB-8 was dreamed up in Hollywood and now it’s being built right here in Colorado. It could be the next big toy this holiday season.
“I’m hoping we have enough for everyone, probably not but I’m just super proud that we’ve been able to create this!” said Berberian.