BB-8 by Sphero - The top toy of Christmas 2015!

Going back to Christmas with today's post, what is it now 4 or 5 weeks ago? Disney were looking to capitalise on the release of their holiday blockbuster by flooding the Christmas market with as much merchandise as they could come up with. At the top of pretty much every Star Wars Christmas list was a small orange and white droid going by the name BB-8. I think he won many hearts and minds during the film and I can only imagine the number of people, and children in particular, who walked away from the movie wishing that they had their own BB-8.

Enter the Sphero company and their device controlled BB-8. All of a sudden the droid from the movies was brought to life in the palm of your hand. You could drive BB-8 anywhere, you could talk to BB-8 and give him commands, you could send him on patrol. He could even display holographic videos for you!

The promotional video leading up to his release made sure to show just how slick and cool this toy could be, and believe me it is cool. But unfortunately he is also somewhat limited with the firmware at release date. That isn't to say this isn't a good investment, nor am I saying it isn't a lot of fun, just that the marketing team did a really good job of selling him to the public.

Taking a look at the first, and probably most used, mode that comes with BB-8 "Drive" this basically hands you the steering wheel and you are able to take BB-8 for a spin around your living room. Admittedly the picture to the right doesn't really show the drive mode that well, I think a video would probably do it more justice, but it is a lot of fun. The mode is comparable to any RC toy in that you are just driving it around but let's face it, there aren't many, if any, other RC products out there on the market that are a Star Wars droid!

It's also a case of the technology in this particular RC toy that sets it apart from the crowd. There are
no wheels, BB-8 is a moving ball with a head on top just like in the movies. This is achieved with the clever use of magnets to keep the head in place, and gyroscopes for the movement and balance of the main body. All of a sudden this is a fun piece of tech to get your head around as well as a toy. But a word of warning if you have pets, the hair can get stuck in the small wheels inside the head. These wheels are their to help the head glide seamlessly in place on top of the moving body but if you have a dog, say a Labrador or Golden Retriever like me, then those wheels can get clogged up quite quickly if you don't take care of your BB-8.

So let's move onto the next BB-8 mode, Patrol. In this mode BB-8 takes control of the driving for you and provides you with feedback as he investigates his surroundings. These are usually the result of a collision with whatever he has detected but it is cool to see him realise he cannot continue on his current path and has to change direction. A nice little upgrade for this would be for BB-8 to remember what he has collided with so that he can map out the area he is in and avoid further collisions. This may well be possible in larger open areas but within the confines of my living room I saw BB-8 make enough collisions with the same objects to come to the conclusion that this currently isn't the case. The data that BB-8 feeds back to you is pretty cool in itself, and hopefully future firmware upgrades will add to this and continue to make BB-8 even cooler.

Earlier I mentioned that BB-8 can also display holographic messages for you, I forgot to mention that he can also record them, so let's take a look at what I meant. For £129 you will not get actual holographic display technology coming out of a toy, which is obviously a disappointment a who doesn't want to recreate the "help me Obi-Wan Kenobi" scene? Instead your "holographic" video is displayed on your device screen, although still in the form of a hologram being projected by BB-8... If you can line him up with it.

I've found it a bit tricky to get the videos lined up with BB-8 perfectly and as you can see sometimes it ends up looking like BB-8 is just emitting a glow that takes the form of a video. A further upgrade to this mode that I would like to see would be the ability to send the videos to your friends so that you really are transmitting a message. Right now, I have only been able to record and view my videos on my phone but as my dad also has his own BB-8 toy I would love to be able to send the videos to him as well and I think this would increase BB-8's appeal. What is the point of being able to record messages if you cannot send them to anyone else?

I think it is only fair to point out that BB-8 is also a tad on the small side. He's not life-size folks, instead he is about the size of a baseball I'd say. So make sure you take care not to lose him! As the old saying goes, size isn't important it's what you do with it that matters and there is an awful lot built into this small package. If Sphero continue to develop the firmware that you download to go with BB-8 so that new fun modes are added to the already impressive package that comes with BB-8 then I expect that there is a lot of life left in BB-8. But if they decide that the Christmas rush has passed and that they no longer want to add to what is a decent foundation for a really cool toy... Well then I think that would be a massive opportunity missed. Hopefully the guys and girls over at Disney can keep the pressure up on the Sphero team to keep delivering and BB-8 will continue to impress audiences worldwide!


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