If you’re a Star Wars fan, and if you aren’t living out in the desert like ol’ Ben Kenobi, I’m pretty sure you have seen the BB-8 commercial by Sphero. Out on Force Friday (today!) it was snapped up across stores worldwide. We HBGers weren’t immune to its allures; Direcow got it at midnight, while I rushed down this morning to get my own set.
Sphero’s version of BB-8 is remarkably well packaged. It comes in a nice matt black box (almost similar to an iPhone or other smartphones), with minimal instructions.
However, no instructions was not a bad thing, as setting up was a breeze. BB-8’s head attaches magnetically to part of the ball, and you can easily orient the entire droid on top of the charger. All I needed to do was to plug in the charger to my computer (or any USB port) and it was good to go after some charging. It charges by induction, so dust and dirt has no way to enter the main ball. The head DOES pick up dirt though, as it is supported by a magnet and moves via some wheels which remind me of them old school mouse wheels.
(And it looks real good blinking on the charger too.)
All the controls are via Sphero’s BB-8 app, so while it was super cool blinking on my charger, the real fun came once I installed the app. It has two modes: A remote control mode, and an autonomous mode. In remote control mode, you control it with two ‘joysticks’, one to orient it towards you, and the other as its directional stick. It also has a few quick commands, that allow BB-8 some range of emotion, as well as some pre-programmed paths. The figure-eight and square were … okay, but having BB-8 run around and then express joy or alarm was… just amazing. It takes a while to get used to controlling BB-8 though, and if you run into things fast enough you tend to pop off his head. But since the shell of the body and the head seem pretty durable, and because everything is connected by magnets, you can snap back his head (I think of BB-8 as a he/it) and BB-8 will be running around right as rain again. Note that while BB-8’s shell looks super shiny and nigh indestructible, I have no idea about the internal electronics, and I’m not about to risk a US$150 (SGD$240) toy just to see how hard of a jolt it’ll take.
In autonomous mode, BB-8 runs around exploring his immediate environment. It has no way of sensing anything short of using an accelerometer and its internal gyroscopes, so it will just bump into things until it maps things out and learns better. Unfortunately this information isn’t saved, so it’s going to be pretty blind every time you start up autonomous mode. Also, it’s a lot more fun with an uncluttered floor.
BB-8 also comes with two special features; a voice activated mode and a ‘message’ mode. Voice-activated can be accessed anywhere in the app by speaking. It’s kind of a modified autonomous mode, with you triggering it to move or act using specific commands. It’s pretty cool.
I’m undecided on the message mode though. In theory, BB-8 is able to run around and deliver messages; pseudo-holographic pre-recordings similar to Leia’s appeal to Obi-Wan. In reality though, it is all in-app via augmented reality. While I understand that size (and available technology and price) is an issue, I don’t get how you could practically send a ‘message’ to someone via the tablet that the person was supposed to have.
In addition, all of BB-8’s sounds are also via the app, but I actually find that to be a pretty attractive option. As mentioned earlier I get that you can only fit so much electronics in the ball, but also I like the quality of the sound that comes from the app. I’m sure that if it was from BB-8 itself it would be either a) really tinny, b) really soft, or c) both. From my tablet I can hear every nuance of BB-8’s annoyance or excitement.
There’s a reason why both me and Direcow RAN down to get the Sphero BB-8 today, and why Star Wars fans are chomping at the bit to get their own; it’s honestly really REALLY fun to play around with. The quality of the design, both in the droid and in the app really sucks you into the Star Wars universe, and while it might get a little bit same-old same-old after prolonged periods of playing with it, I guarantee that you’ll get excited all over again once you introduce it to another Star Wars fan. And it’s probably amazing with kids or pets. Just make sure they don’t eat it.
Ever since BB-8 was proven to be possible practically, Star Wars fans have fantasised about owning one. And while Sphero’s version isn’t perfect (I’d have preferred it to be larger and maybe have more sensors), it is a pretty awesome way to turn that fantasy into reality.
Sphero’s BB-8 is currently out of stock (I think) in Singapore, but considering the demand, I’m sure more will be available in the coming weeks/months.
Also, check out Direcow’s unboxing!