‘Star Wars’ fans think they’ve figured out how the plucky new droid BB-8 works

A website explores what we can learn about this Star Wars droid from a patent.

Mar 1, 2020, 2:56 am*

Internet Culture


Lisa Granshaw

Star Wars fans just can’t get enough of BB-8, the plucky new droid from The Force Awakens. This is partly because the cute new droid is not computer generated—BB-8 is a real robot, built by a company called Sphero, that has stunned fans in person and on-screen. If you’ve been wondering how exactly the droid works, two Star Wars fans from Spain created a website that uses a patent to investigate the answer.

The aptly titled How Does BB-8 Work? looks at a patent for a “magnetic spherical balancing robot drive” that the Spanish fans say looks “suspiciously similar to BB-8.”

According to this configuration, the body contains a drive system that always keeps a relative position with respect to the sphere,” the website says. “The system uses omni wheels to make the sphere roll in any direction. Each of those wheels is connected to a motor. The robot uses sensors (gyroscopes and accelerometers) to determine its position and dynamics. The drive system can be maneuvered using a remote controller. The base plate acts as a counterweight, keeping the center of gravity close to the ground. That keeps the wheels’ traction on the inner shell of the body.”

“So far,” the fans write, “pretty similar to the Sphero.”

The two authors then look at how it differs from the commercially available Sphero ball, which fans have used to create their own BB-8s. Sphero, which worked with Disney to build the official unit, has yet to reveal any details about it, though they are allowing fans to sign up for BB-8 updates.

“The main difference we find with the Sphero is the dynamic mast described by the patent,” the authors explain. “There is also a control system that keeps everything in balance, making sure the mast is always in vertical position. This, if you think about it, makes the whole mechanism behave like a miniature Segway. The arm can rotate and, according to the patent, magnetically interact with an external element. That means BB-8’s head is most likely controlled via magnetic interaction. Magnets at the end of the mast and roller magnets at the base of the head.”

The fans have created a 3D animation of BB-8’s innards to illustrate what they think it might look like. Hopefully we’ll get a look inside the droid someday so we can see if this is how the galaxy far, far away’s latest addition actually functions.

H/T Polygon | Photo via William Tung/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: May 27, 2015, 3:05 pm