Sphero's new battle-weathered BB-8 and a new wearable remote to control it are here at last and pretty darn fun.
Have you ever tried using one of Sphero's cool rolling robots, like BB-8, and wished you didn't have to connect a phone to use it? Use the Force Band.
The Force Band was announced back at the beginning of the year. It's a wrist-worn remote control for Sphero's BB-8 robot, so named because -- well, it makes it feel like you're using the Force. It's finally arriving September 30, along with a new, pretty awesome battle-worn BB-8. I've been using both for a few days now.
For owners of the existing BB-8, the Force Band can be purchased separately for $80 or $AU140 (about £61), or comes packed with a new battle-weathered BB-8 that looks far more movie-realistic than the original. That Special Edition Battle-Weathered BB-8 and Force Band package costs $200 or AU$350, or equivalent to about £152. The band itself looks aged, too; it's a battle-scarred wearable that looks like it came from a junk heap on Jakku.
It's basically the Sphero remote and droid I was looking for.
Force Band is a bulky watch-like thing that has a velcro strap, and a funky design.
It's not a watch, sadly, but it is a USB-chargeable motion-control wrist thingy. It glows, it talks, it makes Star Wars sounds. Most importantly, it acts as an invisible leash for BB-8, letting you control it with waves of the hand.
It's particularly nice because Sphero's BB-8, and all the other Sphero robots, previously needed a phone/tablet app as a remote control, which meant you needed to have a phone or tablet nearby. For kids, this isn't ideal. The Force Band actually works with any Bluetooth LE Sphero, including SPRK+ and the high-speed Ollie.
You still need to set up BB-8 and the Force Band with a phone using a new Star Wars Force Band app (which is also helpful, because you'll need the force training to practice). After that, you're set to use the band on its own. A single button on top turns it on and helps reposition the BB-8 if it gets disoriented. The sound effects can be turned off, if you want to be stealthy about your force powers.
At first, my attempts to control BB-8 were a mess. Making BB-8 move takes some practice, but I got the hang of it after a few sessions. I had it following me like a little puppy around the office soon enough, and I think I'm starting to figure out more precise subtle moves. It gets pretty addicting...just give yourself plenty of arm space, and be ready to look ridiculous.
There are other things you can do with the Force Band besides use it to control BB-8. Wear it all day, if you dare, and you can play a Pokemon Go-like mini-game where you collect Holocrons as it buzzes your wrist with clues. It sounds annoying, but I'm not a kid, so who knows?
Other features you can unlock include sound effect packs so you can turn your waving hand into a lightsaber, or make a toy sound like a pew-pew X-Wing. (That was pretty fun.)
Other wearables, like smartwatches, might use gesture controls to operate things in your home someday soon, and Sphero envisions the band gaining functionality in the future. For now, just enjoy waving your wrist and pretending you have magic powers.
By the way, the battle-scarred Special Edition BB-8 looks like a mini movie prop. It's adorably broken-down looking. As a desktop toy or a collector's item, I can see the appeal. And if you're looking to buy the ultimate BB-8 bundle, you're looking at it.