The buzzy new Star Wars toy is a real-life robot that is controlled by smartphones

By Jodi Guglielmi
Updated September 04, 2015 11:35 AM
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Credit: Sphero

You no longer have to go to a galaxy far, far away to have an authentic Star Wars experience.

“When great storytelling meets great technology, it turns into a really great thing,” Paul Berberian, the CEO of Sphero, tells PEOPLE while describing the buzzy new toy to emerge from the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie.

The buzzy new toy is already selling out worldwide since it went on sale at midnight for Force Friday, joining a slew of other Star Wars toys that hit the market and are being snapped by loyal fans of the franchise.

The new toy droid named BB-8 is a real-life robot that can roll around your house at the command of your smartphone, giving any Star Wars fan their very own robot companion.

BB-8 was spotted in the film’s first trailer, beeping and spinning around on its soccer ball-like body. One glance at the robot, and fans immediately began calling it the successor to the beloved R2-D2.

The toy version of the robot is much smaller than the one seen in the film, roughly the size of a baseball or apple. It was created by a Colorado start-up company called Sphero, makers of a programmable robot-ball of the same name.

After the CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, saw the first Sphero robot and was impressed with its design and abilities, he called a meeting with Berberian and other members of the company to discuss the creation of BB-2.

“It was just four of us in a room and [Iger] opens up his iPhone and starts showing us pictures of the set from The Force Awakens as it s being filmed,” Berberian says. “And he goes ‘You see that little guy there? Do you think you guys can make that?’ And we said of course we can! Four hours after the meeting we had our first prototype.”

BB-8 is controlled by a smartphone app (available for iOS and Android). Besides simply driving the robot – which you can do from up to 100 feet away – you can also activate autopilot to let him patrol his surroundings, send holographic messages, and ask him questions to which he can reply yes or no. You can even warn him when danger is ahead by yelling “it’s a trap!” and he’ll quickly change directions.

“You can’t break him,” explains Berberian. “He can even go in your swimming pool. He’s not the best swimmer, but he will float and spin around for a little while.”

While little is known about the upcoming Star Wars movie, as information becomes available the BB-8 will continue to evolve. “Over the course of time we will update the app and can change the experience,” Berberian says.

“We look at this as a new art form: ‘How do you tell a story through a physical object? Can this become a new canvas?’ ” he adds. “We’re excited about exploring that.”