Sphero Patent Suggests Magnetic Head for BB-8 Droid

Maker News Robotics Technology
Patent for Sphero

A 2014 patent submitted by employees of Sphero details a Sphero-like device working with a “magnetically coupled accessory.” The device works by using a magnetic tip on the existing upward-facing arm within the Sphero, allowing it to create a temporary attachment to a magnetic half-dome that slides along its Teflon-coated surface.

This patent details a "magnetically coupled accessory" for Sphero's familiar rolling toy design.
This patent details a “magnetically coupled accessory” for Sphero’s familiar rolling toy design.

The patent is of special interest to those of us who have wondered how the BB-8 droid in the upcoming Star Wars film was made to work as a real-life remote-controlled prop. After later learning that the filmmakers contracted Sphero to work on the mechanics of BB-8, many have speculated that the prop is simply a scaled up version of the familiar toy. As a proof of concept, Make: contributor Christian Poulsen whipped up a BB-8 inspired Sphero modification with only a little effort.

But is this patent really an inside peek at the workings of the film prop used for the Star Wars movie? It seems more likely that it’s simply detailing the toy version of BB-8 that is certain to hit store shelves in time for the movie’s holiday release. In fact, Sphero already has a teaser page up for what is likely to be their toy BB-8.

The BB-8 droid from Star Wars takes the stage at a Star Wars Celebration event in Anaheim.
The BB-8 droid from Star Wars takes the stage at a Star Wars Celebration event in Anaheim.

And while I can’t imagine that the inner workings of the BB-8 prop are a far cry from the system described in Sphero’s patent, one telltale difference is the prop’s ability to tilt its head and spin its head with precise control. The patent seemingly makes no mention of these capabilities (though patent language is notoriously opaque), leading me to wonder if they’ll be missing from the toy as well.

Let us know what you think of the patent design. Is this the end of the story or just another piece of the puzzle?

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I make stuff, play music, and sometimes make stuff that plays music. Fan of donuts, Arduino, BEAM robotics, skateboarding, Buckminster Fuller, and blinking lights.

View more articles by Donald Bell


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