When Sphero released its BB-8 robotic ball, co-founder and chief scientist Adam Wilson knew that he was onto something. He and his team had partnered with Lucasfilm to create the wirelessly connected replica model of the new droid in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the demand for it far exceeded their expectations.
As Wilson and his team moved forward, they tried to come up with ways to make the toy more enjoyable; one of those ideas was to release a smartband peripheral called the Force Band. Using one of the newest versions of Bluetooth technology, the band relies on motion gesturing from the wearer to control the mini-BB-8 droid. It looks like something out of a Star Wars film, an aspect the design team worked hard on nailing, and doesn't feel heavy on your wrist.
For Wilson, the main reason he decided to pursue a peripheral controlling device that both enthusiasts, fans and kids could wear was to ensure they didn't need to rely on using an iPhone or Android app. The idea was to be able to get them away from their phones and just play with BB-8, if that's what they wanted to do.
"We didn't want people to have to rely on using their phones in order to enjoy playing with BB-8," Wilson told Polygon from his booth at San Diego Comic-Con. "Especially kids who might not even have phones but who want to play. They can't keep bugging their parents for it."
In recognizing the limitations not having a peripheral lead to, Wilson and his team spent months designing and programming the band to make sure that the Bluetooth connection held and there weren't any problems with gesture-based controlling. When asked if he ever considered creating an app for smartwatches, like the Apple Smartwatch or Samsung Gear, he said they didn't think about it and don't have plans to look into pursuing it, either.
"The enthusiasts who have smart watches and who want to make an app can figure it out," Wilson said. "We wanted to make something that was inexpensive and could be used by kids when they wanted to play."
The band's battery will last for about eight hours on one charge, according to Wilson, but the CEO doesn't expect people to play with their robotic toy for that long in one session. It takes another hour or two to charge to completion, but if people are playing with the toy in spurts, Wilison said you could go days without ever needing to plug it in.
On top of the band, Wilson and his team also showed off the Battle Worn version of BB-8. Polygon got to test it out and play with it, and aside from the aesthetic change, there's absolutely no difference to the toy. Wilson said that was always the plan, and aside from collectors, he wasn't expecting hordes of people to buy the new version if they have The Force Awakens original.
"We created this for the movie before The Force Awakens came out," Wilson said. "When we saw the movie, we realized that BB-8 isn't as shiny as our version is, and in fact, is pretty dirty. We wanted to create a similar version to that BB-8 that Star Wars fans now know."
There's no concrete release date for the new Force Band or the Battle Worn BB-8 robotic ball, but both are expected to be released this holiday season, right before the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.