'Star Wars' $150 BB-8 Droid Takes Stage With Aid From Disney CEO

BB-8

BB-8

Source: Sphero
  • Bob Iger mentored Colorado tech company that invented new toy
  • Sphero wants its robots to be another member of the family

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” won’t hit theaters for another three months, but a fresh face has already emerged from the film -- the BB-8 ball-shaped robot droid that scoots inexplicably across the desert in a theatrical trailer.

Sphero, a Boulder, Colorado-based technology firm, unveiled the first photos of the BB-8 toy Thursday, and it’s generating buzz on Twitter and stories on tech blogs. The $150 robot, controlled with an app, goes on sale in the U.S. Friday at Apple, Brookstone and Best Buy stores, as well as Sphero’s website.

“We like to think that this is as close to an actual droid you can buy,” Rob Maigret, Sphero’s chief creative officer, said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

Sphero’s turn in the spotlight stemmed from innovation and luck. The company, which is trying to give its robots human-like personalities, was chosen last year to participate in a mentoring program that “Star Wars” owner Walt Disney Co. runs to keep an eye on emerging business talent. The company was assigned to Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger. Maigret worked previously at the company in its interactive unit.

Sphero was designing high-end robot toys, and showed Iger some of its products. He, of course, was one of a few people who knew what new characters would debut in “The Force Awakens,” the first new “Star Wars” picture in 10 years and the first since Disney acquired the brand in 2012.

“He showed us stills from the set and said, ‘Could your bring this BB-8 to life?’” Maigret recalled.

Internal Guidance

Among the BB-8 toy’s more intriguing technologies is its ability to respond to instructions and navigate without a camera to guide it. Sphero installed a computer with algorithms that can emulate what a seeing robot would do.

“He can go on patrols and missions around your house,” Maigret said.

The BB-8 gives the company the opportunity to accomplish its bigger goal, which is to make robots another member of the family, he said.

“Look at what people are doing now with vacuum cleaners or surveillance cameras,” he said. We don’t have a relationship with those devices, they’re just utility. If you look at what ‘Star Wars’ did with characters like C-3PO and R2-D2, they actually gave them personality. We want you to have a relationship with a robot.”

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