The BB-8 Builds Begin

Yes, the new Star Wars film coming out in December has x-wings, dogfights through the engines of star destroyers, space battles, a dead Jar Jar, and [R2D2]. It will also have the coolest droid yet, [BB-8], the rolling sphere protagonist that will surely be sold as a remote control toy by Christmas 2016.

[James] of XRobots doesn’t want to wait until the [BB-8] toys arrive, so he’s building his own. Right now, it’s just a prototype, but it’s the beginnings of the mechanics and control system of a very, very cool droid.

We’ve seen the first BB-8 droid that was basically putting some magnets on a Sphero robot, but this bot doesn’t exactly have the same functionality of the real-life [BB-8]. The real [BB-8] is actually two parts, a remote control ball-body, and a separate remote-controlled head. [James] is focusing on the head for his prototype, replacing the remote-controlled body with a dummy stand in, a big styrofoam ball.

The head of [James]’ [BB-8] is 3D printed, with some especially clever design features. The electronics are just four DC motors, an Arduino, and some motor drivers. In the future [James] will probably be looking at either steppers or servo motors, but for now his [BB-8] bot can stand up straight and serves as a great platform for testing out control schemes.

All the code and parts are available on Github, with some videos below.

13 thoughts on “The BB-8 Builds Begin

  1. If he integrates the balancing aspect of the two-wheeled robots, he can possibly have everything in the head, and just have a regular ball for a base. Cut out half of the electronics.

    1. Yes but this solution couples head gestures and rolling, making it very difficult to control the two simultaneously. By using two separate mechanisms for the body and head, you gain independent control of both, simplifying the motion problem significantly.

      1. or you could just have 2 separate mechanisms in the head a wheeled base and a independent dome, I know that’s not EXACTLY in the spirit of the droid in the trailer but we gave up on exact when we decided not to use anti-grav to levitate the head above the ball

    1. That would be a function of it’s mass and the friction between the ball and the surface. It would be interesting to see how it would preform on a flat angled terrain. It would also be limited by the angle the robot can remain on the ball without falling off. Maybe a tether and let the robot pull the ball up the hill. Although getting back on might be a tricky problem to solve.

  2. I’ve been thinking about making a XKCD style ballbot, but I’ve been unable to find a good sized hollow plastic sphere. The most I’ve been able to find is neckless spheres which is missing a, y’know, neck. There’s also these guys: http://www.complexplastics.com/ but their site is from the 90s…

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the only option is 3D printing it, which might be a bit tricky at any large sizes.

    1. Large gymnastics ball, pumped to desired size and then covered by epoxy+fiberglass!
      Use this as your negative form, or use it directly :)
      I don’t think 3D printing is a good idea, expensive, time consuming and results may vary

      1. it’s made at least to look like a multiple part ball, so printing many parts to get a frame might be interesting. I’ve ordered a 20cm transparent ball on amazon – it’s for christmas decoration, but it’s very sturdy. But first I have to finish my small R2-D2…

  3. never heard of sphero before this new droid, but I do remember back in the 80’s there was a radio controlled ball that was about 12, 16, 18, or 24 inches wide. Don’t know what it was made of or what the mechanics were inside, but we thought about getting one just to see if we could get some interesting reactions from people in the dorm parking lot while we use a camcorder to record it all.

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