When "Star Wars" debuted in 1977, it changed the course of science fiction movies and started a pop-culture phenomena. The phrase, "May the Force be with you," Darth Vader's distinctive breathing sounds, the plot twist, "No, I am your father," and more are practically universal, even for people who have never seen the movies.
Another aspect that caught everyone's imagination was the droids, specifically C-3PO (played by Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (brought to life by Kenny Baker and the legendary Ben Burtt). Quick trivia fact: Anthony Daniels was in the C-3PO suit saying the lines, but they originally intended to dub his voice with someone else. What a mistake that would have been!
That leads me now to the current, soon-to-be released seventh Star Wars film. "The Force Awakens" is scheduled to hit theaters this Christmas. The movie is set several decades after "Return of the Jedi" and the galaxy has changed. If you haven't seen the latest trailer, you really should give it a look. I'm very excited about it.
Just like the original Star Wars, however, one of the new characters that has everyone talking isn't an actor, it's the droid BB-8. This little ball-shaped droid has only been on screen for a few seconds, mostly in the original teaser video, but it clearly has character.
What's more impressive, however, is that everyone assumed it was computer generated, just like the droids in the Star Wars prequels. It turns out, however, that BB-8 is totally real and amazing to watch.
At Star Wars Celebration 2015, in a panel on the new movie, BB-8 joined the venerable R2-D2 on stage and blew away the audience. And it has everyone trying to figure out how it works.
The rolling sphere section actually isn't hard to do. With the right drive system and counterweights inside, you can get a sphere to roll on a flat surface, or even up a slight incline. There's even kids' toys that do it.
The really impressive part is the head, which manages to stay upright no matter what, and appears to be floating just over the surface of the main body. Many people speculate that it's done with magnets and a gyroscope. Rollers are used to help the head and body slide past each other without too much friction.
According to the Star Wars crew, Disney chairman Bob Iger is the one who found the company with the technology to pull it off. I'm betting that unnamed company is going to be rolling in the dough soon as it uses this tech in other products (or gets a license to make real BB-8s for sale).
Are you excited for the new Star Wars movie? Do you think BB-8 can snag the "best droid" crown from R2-D2? Let me know in the comments.