BB-8 Strikes The Perfect Balance Between Adorable And Awesome
When Sphero’s BB-8 toy was announced on Sept. 3, it quickly rose to the top of Amazon’s charts. As of the end of the month, BB-8 was ranked No. 1 in RC Figures & Robots, No. 1 in Preschool Learning Toys, and it was holding its own in a plethora of other toy categories. We caught up with Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts, to get his take on what might be the buzziest toy release since the world was introduced to Furby in 1998. For as much of an icon as "Star Wars" droid R2-D2 is, one could make an argument that it's in danger of being dethroned by this year’s cutest newcomer, BB-8.
Gottlieb had a lot to tell SF Globe about Sphero’s new creation, but it’s pretty clear from his comments that he’s impressed with this droid, “I believe the secret of BB-8's attraction is that never has a toy so realistically mimicked a movie character.”
He continues by observing BB-8’s universal appeal, noting the two key demographics that it’s successfully targeting. “(BB-8) is attractive to children but also to adults who will see it as a collectible and a legacy toy to be handed down.” It’s safe to say that this toy will fit right in with "Star Wars" sets across the globe.
It’s obvious that Gottlieb sees BB-8 as an object that can transcend generational lines.
“Today's parents were children in 1977 when the movie came released. It was an important moment in their childhood. Now, they are going to be able to share this movie with their children. Amplifying that moment is that the original characters they loved will be in the movie.”
After hearing all of this, it’s easy to wrap your head around BB-8’s appeal. What’s harder to understand is the inner workings of what Forbes is calling “the best Star Wars toy ever made.” There’s some really interesting science happening inside this sci-fi creation, and there’s surely something to learn for people of all ages.
J.J. Abrams is the man tasked with directing the final "Star Wars" trilogy, and he recently spoke on a panel about the new films. Accompanying him to the event was the BB-8 robot they used to create the film. Addressing the crowd, Abrams stressed the importance of avoiding CG for this central character of the film,
"We talked originally about how to have BB-8 in the film, and there were a lot of discussions about how having a CG BB-8 would be so much easier, but we also knew it would be better for the film, for the actors, for the sets, for the look of it, if it were performed. Neal Scanlan and his unbelievable team built and puppeteer BB-8 in the movie, and they did an extraordinary job. It was better for the actors, it was better for the film itself. ... It was amazing.”
That’s when Sphero was tapped to help out with the project. They’d already created an app-controlled sphere (ostensibly BB-8 without the head), and even though there are some technical differences between the two, the Sphero team’s product was the closest real-life thing to the movie character. All they had to do was figure out how to put a head on top — and keep it there. That’s where the physics comes in.
It’s worth noting that a lot of this is conjecture — while the patent is available publicly, there are few details as to what’s actually making the wheels turn, so to speak, on this toy. Fortunately for us, some really bright people have taken some stabs at figuring it out, and they seem to be onto something. This seemingly simple toy is packed with some interesting tech. First off, it's got a gyroscope inside it. That's how it's able to determine which end is up, and otherwise. The rest of the package is a bit more of a mystery.
Jason Torchinsky put together this schematic and points out that the droid’s head is able to move unfettered from the body, and the body has no seams. Further, the head is unmechanized — it’s basically just a plastic lump with a paint job. Torchinsky guesses that there’s probably some magnetic rollers at play here, connecting with one on the inside.
He imagines all of the parts stemming from a wheel-fitted disc on the inside of the device — it’s his contention that the motors and the head’s internal magnetic arm are all attached. Torchinsky notes that the gyroscope inside likely keeps the head’s magnetic arm vertical, which keeps the head in the correct location (on top of the body!).
So, we can all agree that this toy is awesome — but is it worth the price? Going back to Gottlieb, he gave us some thoughts, and they have a lot to do with what he calls the “value proposition.”
“One of the things that toy companies have to consider is the 'value proposition.' In other words, does the perceived value of the product (what the consumer thinks it should cost) match up with the selling price.”
Gottlieb is confident that BB-8’s perceived value does match up with the selling price, and for a few reasons. First off, he notes how it’s such “an excellent representation of the product (the customer sees) on the screen." He asks rhetorically, “How much would you have paid as a child to have your own miniature R2D2 that worked just like the real character?” It’s a valid point — I’d have undoubtedly begged Mom and Dad for an R2 of my very own had one been available.
Gottlieb points to the collectable nature of "Star Wars" toys as an additional reason it’ll be successful. It’s his last reason that resonates most, though: “It’s really cool. Never under estimate the cool factor.”