bb-8-gif-sphero

As an industrial designer, I’ve been particularly fascinated by products that have personality and emotion. And I think the droids in Star Wars have always been really great at capturing a character without facial expression and drawing you in. And BB-8 was no different when they brought it out onstage for the first time.

As I watched it roll around my only thought was “need!” …So I made one.

Part of what I really enjoyed about the process of making it was the timeline. Most projects I work on end up taking weeks, if not months to finish. With BB-8, I pushed myself to make it in a day. As a result, the surfacing and paint is less than perfect, which I’m serendipitously calling “weathered”. But I was able to stick to my goal, and was able to make the whole thing in a matter of hours. I wanted to capture the character and personality of the real robot as simply as possible, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

To make it I used a Sphero 1.0 for the body (I’ve never split open the Sphero 2.0, so I’m not sure if it will work on that model), polyurethane foam surfaced with spackle for the head, and neodymium magnets to connect the two. My file for the head design can be downloaded from Thingiverse.

Steps

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Step #1: Splitting Sphero 1.0

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Make This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked Sphero

The first step was to split open the Sphero along the part line using a hack saw, being careful not to saw through the internal chassis.

Step #2: Embedding the magnet

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  • Once I split it apart, I needed to attach the internal magnet.
  • The internal chassis of the Sphero has a post that pushes against the top of the sphere and acts as somewhat of a shock absorber. It's to this post that I attached the 3/4" neodymium magnet ring.
  • I then cleaned up the edges of the sphere with a utility knife and used hot glue to reattach the two halves with the newly magnetized structure inside.

Step #3: Design and fabricate the head

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  • I then began work on the head. I built it in Rhino over a screenshot from the trailer to make sure I had the proportions right. An STL file of my design can be downloaded from Thingiverse.
  • I milled out my design on a CNC using polyurethane foam.
  • I then used wood spackle to finish the surface of the foam.

Step #4: Masking and Painting

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Make This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked SpheroMake This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked SpheroMake This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked Sphero
  • To get the paint job right, I laser cut the designs out of tape to mask off the different colors. I used gray plastidip for the base coat. I chose plastidip because it is more opaque than regular spray paint and wanted to block out the flashing LEDs (a glowing green droid just wouldn't work for me).
  • After the base coat was dry, I coated it with orange spray paint.

Step #5: Finishing coats

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After masking out the orange I hit it with a coat of white, added the sharpie details and finally finished it with a clear coat enamel. The top coat was particularly important to get just right, to reduce as much friction as possible between the head and body.

Step #6: Add magnets and felt

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Make This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked SpheroMake This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked SpheroMake This Mini Star Wars BB-8 Ball Droid with a Hacked Sphero
  • After the paint was completely dry, I embedded a 3/8" neodymium magnet disc in the head and I added a small adhesive felt pad so that it can slide easily across the surface of the body.
  • I used a drill press to sink the magnet in just deep enough to be flush with the surface and glued it in place before attaching the felt pad over it.
  • The droid is controlled by bluetooth through the Sphero app, but also has a mind of its own. Because it's now more top-heavy and tends to lean, the gyroscope will try to correct the lean, and it will keep on rolling in whatever direction it's pushed.
Christian Poulsen

Christian Poulsen

Christian Poulsen is currently in the process of finishing his degree in Industrial Design at Brigham Young University, trying to find time between fixing his perma-plagued 70's Porsche named Sebastian and any number of other personal or work projects.


  • Louis M Johnson Jr

    Nice Job! If you can make the sphero in the base a bit larger (which makes the base larger) using the same internal Magnet arrangement. Then use a second Sphero outside its ball as the head unit. Program the head unit to sense the base unit’s magnet as its Target location and to stay right on that point. Then the head would stay right where it’s supposed to be. You might even be able to use a remote to turn and offset the head from it’s target point as we see in the movie’s droid. :^)

  • Ras Pi

    As predicted by Make: a few days ago, somebody has made their own bb8.

  • DickCheese

    shit..

  • Guest

    Every Time makezine with you
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  • aphi

    Hi Christian. Give us a ring at tlcsecure.com ! We’re working on something similar with Sphereo 2.0 but instead of a wooden head we will have a plastic one housing a camera. We are looking at the SDK to see if we can stabilize the head and control direction :-) Phil

  • Guest

    New Amazing Way of makezine……. ;
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  • cheinzmann

    Anyone remember the Sphero Peacekeeper edition?
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sphero-peacekeeper-edition

  • Prop Collector

    Join the BB-8 Builder’s club at http://www.bb8builders.com or droidgarage.com

  • Derek

    This is kinda funny to me because the company behind Sphero made BB8 and are releasing a toy version anyway. You basically did their exact job. Good work.

  • woopyzip

    for more information on how bb8 works see this website:
    http://www.roborei.com/world/news/how-does-bb8-work-bb8-starwars-movies/

  • Everseeker

    In some screenshots you can barely see what look like wheels peeking out from the bottom of the head. I think there’s a set of omniwheels under there, to allow the head to rotate

  • Everseeker

    Taking that further, If you use balancing software & positioning hardware, I am not at all sure you need the mag link at all.

    In fact, Could the top be the ONLY active part? (It always leans over to initiate movement… Could that be because it NEEDS to do that… moving the center of mass past the centroid to cause motion?)

    I have seen several algorithms that could handle all of the above nicely. Beginning with an IEEE article a couple years back, there are now a ton of unicycle bots & ball balance bots on youtube…

  • Jacob Lahue

    I am so happy you made this because I bought the sphero 1.0 a few years ago and I quickly lost interest with playing with it, because it was slow, and a bunch of other reasons. But when I got my make magazine, I saw you could build one of these, I was like ” I need dis!”. So I turned the pages to find it and then realized its using the Sphero 1.0! The 3 year old toy collecting dust in my closet! I was so happy! Thank you!

  • Scott Christensen

    I have my Sphero opened up and was wondering if I could just use some squared buckyballs as the magnets with just a little hotglue keeping them in place.