Hands on with Sphero’s new R2-D2 and BB-9E droids

Anthony Caruana
4 September, 2017
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My name is Anthony and I am a Star Wars tragic. Last week, on Force Friday (I have no idea why last Friday was designated ‘Force Friday’) Sphero added two new droids to their Star Wars range, to accompany their incredibly popular BB8 droid. BB-9E is a new spherical droid that looks like a great foil for the loveable BB-8. It’s also the First Order droid that has been featured as a separate character.

For lovers of the original Star Wars movies, Sphero has also released an all new R2-D2 robot.

I have to say, when we unboxed the parcel the droids arrived in last week, the three teenagers in my house were far mode excited to see R2-D2 than BB-9E. BB-9E is an ‘astromech’ droid that specialises in keeping starships and machinery fully operational.

The droids are controlled using the Sphero Star Wars app. It lets you control multiple droids. I added both BB-9E and R2-D2 to the app. Switching between droids is simple – just tap the icon in the top-right corner of the app and choose a droid or connect to a new device. You can also use the apps to do things with multiple droids at the same time, and it supports BB8, which was released in the months preceding Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’ll know R2-D2′s distinctive blue, white and chrome finish. The Sphero team have done a great job of producing a faithful reproduction. Jon Carroll, director of Prototyping and one of Sphero’s founders, told me every aspect of the Star Wars product line goes through a strict approval process with Lucas Film, so you can be sure this has been verified by a more rigorous process than the one that gave us the terrible Star Wars Holiday Special back in the 1970s.

BB-9E is all new and reveals previously unknown details from the upcoming movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If you put it into training mode, on the ‘treadmill’ that ships in the box, you can go on a walkthrough of a previously unseen First Order (they’re the bad guys if you’re not into Star Wars) battle cruiser.

R2-D2 is easy to drive, although I’d suggest turning down the acceleration speed for both droids until you get the hang of driving them. The left/right and backwards/forwards controls are easy to operate and there are bunch of ‘canned’ actions that allow you to tap a button to make the droids spin, rock or ‘vocalise’.

All three Sphero Star Wars droids have a special movie-watching mode. Fire up one of the supported movies – only a couple of movies from the franchise can be used, but future software updates have been promised for the rest of the franchise – and the droids will beep, move and ‘react’ to what’s on the screen. They do this by recognising audio cues.

BB-9E retails for $249.99 and R2-D2 will set you back $299.99. They are available through EB Games, Tech 2 Go, JB Hi-Fi, Zing, Apple and Harvey Norman.

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