A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… Or actually in Pinewood Studios, and only a couple of years ago… Anyway. A small droid was born, ready to take R2D2’s spot as the world’s cutest robot. He appeared on our screens in a teaser trailer that tantalised Star Wars fans and non fans alike, and BB8 stole the hearts of everyone who watched it. Who was this cute little robot, what role would he play and how the hell did they get that little guy to move!
In fact BB8 was originally going to be a CGI creation, but JJ Abrams wantec to go old school and use real props and sets, more like the original trilogy than the prequels. This was going to be a real, tactile world, and although a CGI BB8 would have been easier, making him real would be better for the film and the actors.
The closest tying to BB8 is Sphero, a start up that was funded by Disney… funny that. It is a spherical robot that can roll around, just like BB8. Now we can assume the little droid works in a similar way to Sphero as they helped work on the little guy. Sphero uses a gyroscope to determine which way is down, and two sets of wheels inside which create the motion. A vertical bearing is used to keep these wheels attached to the walls.
But his head floats I hear you say! Very true, and this is done with magnetics. A patent filed by Disney could shed some light on this, but there are two ways that it could be done. The patent uses a mast, which is kept balanced with gyroscopes and a weight, on this is some heavy duty magnets which attach to the head of BB8. The other uses a stool type set-up and behaves more like movie BB8. Each one is described in detail on How BB8 Works.
Now the best thing is that many people have studied BB8 in the films and managed to recreate him! Yep you can build your own little BB8 droid with some patience and know how! Hell, I may even give it a go myself… Maybe in time for the next Star Wars day. May the force be with you.