In case you missed it, last week saw the arrival of 'Force Friday', the first chance Star Wars fans had to get their hands on new toys from the upcoming The Force Awakens sequel.
The toy blitz was observed by hundreds of stores around the world, who opened their doors at midnight to sell plastic figurines to people who should probably know better. One of the products in particular stands out – the BB-8 toy – and it's drawn an awful lot of attention because of the amazing way the droid moves. Pretty much anyone who sees it is guaranteed to do a little double-take and wonder how the heck that thing rolls the way it does.
If you're not aware, BB-8 is kind of like an updated, spherical version of R2-D2. BB-8 attracted the curiosity of fans after making its first appearance in teasers and trailers for the new film, but what really provoked interest was when the movie's director JJ Abrams revealed that the droid you see in the film is a real, physical machine – it's not computer generated – but didn't give up the secrets of how it worked.
This led to considerable speculation online, with one entire website devoted to figuring out how BB-8 might theoretically operate. The authors of that site, Carlos Sánchez and Emilio Gelardo, speculated:
"So, how does BB-8 work? … The closest thing out there is the Sphero ball … BB-8 and the Sphero are likely to share a very similar internal mechanism… The RC robotic ball uses a gyroscope to determine which way is down and two wheels to move the sphere from inside.
The base plate (batteries included) serves as a counterweight to keep the wheels acting against the lower half of the sphere. There's also a vertical bearing that helps to keep the wheels in contact with the walls."
Fast-forward to Force Friday, and, rather amazingly, it turns out a lot of what Sánchez and Gelardo thought turned out to be absolutely right. Not only did they peg the internal mechanisms correctly, but it even turns out that Sphero is the manufacturer of the official BB-8 toy. Freaky.
Tinkerers the world over like uBreakiFix are now tearing open their own personal BB-8s to get a better look at how the poor little droid's gryoscope-and-magnet setup works (or, rather, worked), and Wired even went as far to explain the physics of how BB-8's rolling makes sense.
Oh, and if BB-8 doesn't exactly do it for you – and at US$149 that's at least financially understandable – what would you say to your very own Millennium Falcon drone? Welcome to the toys of the future.