Working R2-D2, BB-9E droids unveiled

Adam Swimmer, Postmedia Network

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET

TORONTO — BB-8 is getting some company this Force Friday as Sphero is adding more app-enabled toy droids to its Star Wars lineup.

The company that brought the odd, ball-shaped robot from Star Wars: The Force Awakens to life as a working toy, is releasing two new robots from the film series: BB-9E from the upcoming The Last Jedi and, one of the most iconic movie robots of all time: R2-D2.

Carly Gloge, who manages the Star Wars line for Sphero, said BB-9E is a “bad version” of BB-8.

“We don’t have all the details yet but we know he’s a First Order droid that you see on a Mega Star Destroyer,” the Sphero product director said. (The First Order is what replaced the Galactic Empire after it fell, if you forgot that plot point.)

BB-9E is the same size, and close in design, to BB-8 but it’s black and has a flatter head. And the toy is heavier as Sphero decided to add a light to the head to differentiate it, Gloge explained. As a result, they had to add weight to the base to balance it.

BB-9E’s beeps and blurps are also a little deeper than BB-8’s, which is in tune with Episode VIII.

“We worked closely with Lucasfilm to get all the audio assets before the film comes out,” Gloge said.

R2-D2 is significantly larger than the BB units.

“There’s other R2-D2s on the market so we knew if we were going to do one, we would have to make it more authentic for those superfans and really stand apart,” Gloge said.

The droid has several LED lights, a detailed finish and utilizes four motors, two for the head and one for each of the main feet. (It has the ability to switch from bipod to tripod.)

“He’ll animate real-time as he’s driving,” Gloge said.

She added the company spent two-to-three months just to get the droid’s waddle right.

Lucasfilm also went into its archive to unearth the proper sound effects.

“We’re actually playing the motor sounds and all those sounds you hear in the original film,” Gloge said.

That being said, the sad R2 whine does sound a touch off.

Like the BB-8, the new droids are controlled via a smartphone app, available for both iOS and Android.

You can use a virtual joystick on the screen, draw patterns for the droids to drive or activate specific animations for them to perform. For example, you can make R2-D2 scream and drive across the room or short out and fall over like it did in A New Hope when shot by the Jawas.

You can also send all three of the droids (assuming you have them) out in patrol mode and they’ll all drive around at the same time.

The app also comes with an augmented reality feature that allows to explore inside three ships from the films. BB-9E and new BB-8s will ship with a Holographic Simulation Sphero Droid Trainer accessory, a treadmill lets you see the interior of new spacecrafts from Episode VIII on your smartphone as you drive the droids on it. BB-9E investigates Mega Star Destroyer, The Supremacy, while BB-8 checks out a new Resistance cruiser, The Raddus.

“You can find different, little Easter eggs to learn more about the ships,” Gloge said.

R2-D2 doesn’t use the trainer but gives a peek at the Millennium Falcon from the original trilogy.

On the slightly more gimmicky side, the app includes a feature that allows you to watch the films alongside your droids and they will react differently throughout. For example, BB-9E is very “curious” about Darth Vader, she said.

For now, the feature is available for A New Hope, The Force Awakens and Rogue One but more will be available in the future, Gloge said.

“Lots of work went into these over the last year,” she added. “We’re really excited to launch them. A lot of our data suggests R2 is everyone’s favourite but we know that a lot of the newer fans are going to love BB-9E.”

As for whether a C-3PO droid is coming in the future…

“Maybe someday,” Gloge said with a laugh. “That is a hard one.”

The new droids will be available at Best Buy Canada and Apple on Friday.  The BB-9E and new BB-8 (withe trainers) will sell for $ 199.99 and R2-D2 will cost $ 239.99.  The standalone droid trainer for those who already own the BB-8 will be available in stores in late September for $ 37.99.

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