The cutest character from the new “Star Wars” film has a little mystery to it.
Unbeknownst to many, BB-8 wasn’t computer generated for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” It’s a fully functioning robot, as seen when it debuted at Star Wars Celebration 2015 in April.
Unlike BB-8’s predecessor, R2-D2, BB-8 is spherical with a floating head that stays in place as the body rotates to move. So how exactly does it work?
No, unfortunately, it’s not like this:
But rather, more likely like this:
In fact, there’s a whole website dedicated to piecing together how BB-8 works. The website’s authors, Carlos Sánchez and Emilio Gelardo, think the mechanisms in the spherical part work much like the Sphero ball, a robotic ball that uses a gyroscope to figure out which was is up. The Sphero ball technology is what’s being used in the BB-8 toys.
The gif above, taken from Sánchez and Gelardo’s website,
shows a bit more complex set-up than the two-wheeled Sphero. There’s also a curved bar, which looks like it would aid the movement of the BB-8’s head. And that’s truly the coolest part.
As the BB-8 skims across the sandy surface of desert planets, (yes, that would cause a traction problem), its head manages to stay put or adjust depending on the direction it’s facing.
Sánchez and Gelardo think they have that figured out too. They came across a patent Disney owns that looks curiously like the BB-8 droid. That’s where they came up with the curved bar (they call it a dynamic mast), which holds on to the magnets inside the sphere that can connect with the roller magnets in the head. Voila, a floating head that can stay in the right position even as the body spins and spins.
“This, if you think about it, makes the whole mechanism behave like a miniature Segway,” they wrote. “The arm can rotate and, according to the patent, magnetically interact with an external element.”
Though they don’t know for sure, this theory seems like a pretty good bet for how the BB-8 works. If the confirmed mechanisms ever leak, we’ll be sure to keep you posted.
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