You may have caught a glimpse of an adorable, ball-like robot, complete with a typical Star Wars droid head, rolling pretty quickly in the last Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens’ first teaser trailer released last December. As it turns, this cutesy droid, dubbed BB8, is a real thing. Yup. It is all metal and electronics, instead of a product of CGI. So why are we are all over a little ball-like droid and be bothered by its physically existence? Because it is a robotic marvel, or radio control marvel, if you like, that such thing could be made possible. A ball-like robot is not new and has proven to work by Sphero and many others, but this one has got a head that maintains its position on the body as the robot moves along. Now, that, my friend, is some pretty cool stuff. And here’s why a real robot as opposed to CGI variant, direct from the horse’s mouth:
“We talked originally about how to best have BB8 in the film and there were a lot of discussions about how having a CG BB8 would be so much easier for shooting, but we also knew it would better for the film, for the actors, for the sets, for the look of it if it were performed, and Neal Scanlan and his unbelievable team built and puppeteered it for the movie,” said director JJ Abrams during a Q&A session at the Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Anaheim, California on April 16, 2015. Surprise they didn’t organized it at fan-appointed Star Wars Day on May 1st. Anyways, that’s besides the point.
And by “puppeteering”, Abrams meant remote control and not quite the strings and puppet kind of puppeteering. But how exactly the robot works was not being explained. Our guess is, the robot uses the same technology as many ball-like robots with the addition of circular frame with a magnet that’s rigged to a gyroscope that keeps it up top aways and the matching head, which we think has a concave bottom to match the radius of the ball body, has an opposing magnet to create some sort of levitation, allowing it to float millimeters off the body as it rolls. But even with magnetic levitation, it will just float away without a guide and so, we also think it is plausible that the head could be designed with multi-direction wheels, while the mention magnet ensures it sticks to the body aways, which theoretically should work too. However, those, again, are just our speculations.
In any case, welcome to the future. All we need now is some serious AI so we can have droids to do our biddings, while we get fat lying on the couch, watching Netflix and drinking soda all day. Keep going to catch BB8 in action with R2-D2 on stage.