Holonomic motion allows instantaneous movement in any direction while on a horizontal plane.
Star Wars has been making headlines recently with its upcoming movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All the CGI, leaks, press releases, games—you name it, have been closely watched since Disney acquired Lucas Films. Perhaps the most intriguing of them all has been the BB-8 droid. Given its ball-shape and uncanny likeness to the old R2 droids that fans have come to love, people were definitely interested.
The fact that an actual prop was used got many thinking: how in the world does it work? The recent release of BB-8 merchandise that are remote-controlled via a smartphone app pretty much sealed the legacy of this unique droid. Without further ado, here is the tech behind the BB-8.
BB-8 uses a gyroscope and counterweight to tell which direction is which. There are wheels in contact with the shell that, when prompted, can instantly move in that direction. The head portion of BB-8 uses a magnetized stem which allows it to look around while moving.
It is assumed that the tech inside the BB-8 is the same with the Sphero, a ball controlled using an app, and is marketed as a children’s toy. A little digging shows that Lucas Films had patented something curiously similar to the BB-8’s description over four years ago.
Holonomic motion allows instantaneous movement in any direction while on a horizontal plane. This makes the design highly responsive to changes in movement. BB-8 is considered a holonomic robot. Apparently, the drive system’s position is designed to always stay relative to the sphere. The wheels mentioned earlier are each powered by a motor. A gyroscope and accelerometer determine both position and dynamics.
The main difference with the Sphero is the magnetized stem. There is a control system that always makes this stem remain vertical. The stem can also rotate which allows for the BB-8’s interesting movement. The short of it is that the BB-8, except for a few bells and whistles, functions like a Segway except looks much cuter.