Is this the droid you're looking for? As a matter of fact, it is.
Over the last 24 hours, Lucasfilm and its merchandising partners have been rolling out the new lineup of tie-in toys for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It looks like they saved the best for last.
"Connected entertainment robot" maker Sphero has created a miniature replica of the movie's ball-shaped droid, BB-8. Already a fan-favorite character months before the movie opens, the little astromech droid is notorious for his ball-shaped body and dome-shaped head that floats atop it. It's a fitting opportunity for Sphero, since this is the company that was responsible for making the actual, functional BB-8 droid that's in the film.
That's right: in the movie, BB-8 is not a digital effect. He was really there on the set interacting with the actors, and exhibiting a real personality.
Who better to make a toy out of it than its inventors? The amazing thing about Sphero's toy is that it replicates BB-8's functions with remarkable precision — including that head that moves independently of the spherical body thanks to some clever magnets. The toy is a self-propelled, gyroscopically-leveled robot that you control via an app. You can steer it via the app, record messages for it to repeat and broadcast, or set it to "Patrol" mode.
Patrol mode makes BB-8 autonomous, allowing him to explore his environment, find obstacles like furniture or steps, and actually learn from what he finds. He'll also express his personality entirely on his own, using BB-8's real "voice" of beeps and electric sounds. And since the toy is wifi enabled, Sphero can update its software with new features and functions over time.
The BB-8 toy comes with a cradle base that uses inductive charging to power up the little guy. A single charge is said to last about an hour, and the robot has a range of almost one hundred feet from the smartphone or tablet it's paired to.
Another nifty feature is the messaging option, which takes a cue from Princess Leia's opening scene in A New Hope. Record your video message, and BB-8 will replay its audio; an augmented reality mode in the app brings your recording to blue, holographic life when you point your device at the droid.
Sphero's "BB-8 App-Enabled Droid" toy is expected to go on sale soon for $150. Despite that steep price tag, you can bet that stores will sell out of their BB-8 allotments very quickly. The cool factor will make it the must-have toy of the 2015 holiday shopping season.
Count on it.