Review: If You’re a Star Wars Superfan, You Need Sphero’s BB-9E and R2-D2

Robotics company Sphero skyrocketed to popularity in 2015 with the release of BB-8, a miniature iPhone-controlled toy droid modeled after the BB-8 character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

As the release of the The Last Jedi approaches this December, Sphero has introduced two new Star Wars-themed robotic toys, BB-9E and R2-D2.


R2-D2 is a well-known classic droid that's starred in Star Wars movies since the original trilogy in the 1970s, while BB-9E, an Astromech droid that serves in the First Order (aka evil BB-8), is a newcomer that will appear in The Last Jedi.


Like BB-8, both of Sphero's new droids are exquisitely accurate in design compared to the movie versions, and they come to life when paired with the Sphero app.

Design


BB-9E shares a design with BB-8, and BB-8 was based on Sphero's original robotic ball technology. BB-9E's body is a plastic sphere that houses a motor, a gyroscope that keeps BB-9E upright, counterweights for balance, internal wheels, magnets, and other electronic components.


BB-9E's head attaches to the ball-shaped body using magnets, and a set of wheels underneath the head to allow it to move in around in stay in place on the body while BB-9E is in motion. Instead of a round head like BB-8, BB-9E has a flatter head that fits in better with the First Order aesthetic.


Size wise, BB-9E fits in the palm of a hand, and if you own BB-8, BB-9E is the same size. In contrast to BB-8's white and orange design, BB-9E is black with gray accents and red and blue lights (on the head) when in operation. BB-9E is made from a durable plastic that holds up to rough use -- even when the droid is slammed into walls or other obstacles, it comes away unscathed.
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Sphero Launches New R2-Q5 iPhone-Controlled Star Wars Droid

Following the launch of BB-8 in 2015, and R2-D2 and BB-9E last month, Sphero has introduced an all-new iPhone-controlled droid ahead of New York Comic-Con, which begins today. This one is R2-Q5 and is the Imperial counterpart to R2-D2, with a glossy black finish and matte gold trimmings. R2-Q5 first appeared in Return of the Jedi.


Similar to Sphero's R2-D2 droid, R2-Q5 has functional lights, a rotating dome, retractable third foot, on-board speakers, and can be piloted manually via the same Sphero app that controls the other Star Wars droids, or patrol on its own. The app has augmented reality features that place R2-Q5 in settings within the Star Wars universe, including the Death Star. You can watch Star Wars movies with the droid and have it react to certain moments within the film as well.
R2-Q5™ is an Imperial astromech droid from a galaxy far, far away.... Control it with your smart device or keep this nefarious Droid in top shape with augmented reality training. R2-Q5’s signature front and rear LED lights are fully functional, and an integrated speaker means all sounds come right from the droid itself. Watch R2-Q5 interact with other Star Wars™ App-enabled Droids by Sphero, and view films from the Star Wars saga with R2-Q5 reacting by your side. This special droid has been brought to life thanks to Sphero technology.
Sphero is planning R2-Q5 as a much more exclusive model than its previous droids, with only 100 on sale at the company's New York Comic-Con booth today. After that, the droid will debut on Best Buy's site and in stores on November 5 for $199.99. Pre-orders are available now, and the "limited edition" droid is expected to see limited availability throughout the holidays, so once they disappear from Best Buy they'll be gone for good.


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Disney Confirms Upcoming Streaming Service Will Include Marvel and Star Wars Films

In early August, Disney revealed that it plans to pull all of its movies from Netflix and launch its own streaming service in 2019. Users were understandably curious as to which Disney-owned brands that might include, particularly once Disney CEO Bob Iger referenced the company's interest in potentially branching off Marvel and Star Wars into their own, separate streaming services.

Today, Iger cleared up any confusion by confirming Marvel and Star Wars films will be available on the upcoming Disney-branded streaming app (via Deadline). Current films in these franchises on Netflix -- like Doctor Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story -- will be removed from Netflix and arrive on the Disney platform when it launches in 2019. It's still unclear at what point between now and 2019 Disney will begin removing these films from Netflix.


Last month Reuters reported that Netflix was in "active discussions" with Disney to keep Marvel and Star Wars films on the popular streaming platform, but it appears those talks have now fallen through.
Films from Marvel and Star Wars that now go to Netflix will move to Disney’s planned ad-free direct-to-consumer streaming service, CEO Bob Iger said today at an investor gathering.

“We’re going to launch big, and we’re going to launch hot” by late 2019, he told the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference.
The outcome for Marvel and Star Wars TV shows was not specified, but Iger said that the Disney streaming app "will have the entire output of the studio — animation, live action and Disney including Pixar, Star Wars and all of the Marvel films,” potentially including television content. Right now, users can watch Marvel and Star Wars TV shows on Netflix including Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Last month Iger confirmed that Disney "has no plans" to remove any of the Netflix-owned and created Marvel series from the service, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, and The Punisher. These original Netflix shows were formed under a separate deal from the one created in 2012, meaning they'll continue to be Netflix original shows for the forseeable future. Iger said Disney is even potentially willing to license even more Marvel characters for future shows.

On the Disney branded side of things, the app will include four or five "mostly live action" original movies, as well as four or five original Disney TV shows. Besides the new content, the service will of course also house the company's back catalogue, spanning nearly 500 films, 7,000 episodes of television, and "thousands" of short films. Neither Disney nor Iger has mentioned the subscription cost for the service yet, but the CEO said a price will be coming "in the months ahead."


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New Star Wars Toys Added to Apple’s Online Store, Including R2-D2 and BB-9E Droids

A collection of Star Wars toys, including Sphero's new R2-D2 and BB-9E droids, are now available to purchase from Apple's online store.


R2-D2 and BB-9E can be controlled with an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. More details can be found in our earlier coverage of the droids.

Apple's new Star Wars accessories page also has a trio of Star Wars quadcopter drones by Propel, and a kit for creating your own Star Wars droid.

Apple is also hosting free Star Wars–themed sessions at many of its retail stores starting today through Saturday, September 9.

The new Star Wars toys and sessions are in celebration of Force Friday II, which begins today and runs through this weekend. It's all to promote Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which debuts in theaters December 15.


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Sphero Reveals New iPhone-Controlled R2-D2 and BB-9E Droids

Sphero today unveiled all-new iPhone-controlled Star Wars toys, including R2-D2 and a new character from Star Wars: The Last Jedi called BB-9E (via TechCrunch). This latter droid is described as originating from the same astromech series as BB-8, but is instead associated with the villainous First Order.


Similar to Sphero's BB-8 droid from 2015, BB-9E (priced at $149) comes with a set of pre-programmed moves and voice lines, but users can also manually control the droid from their iOS device. BB-9E's head is equipped with LED lights and is magnetically attached to the droid's body, so it can roll around similar to the character within the upcoming movie.


The company said that BB-9E will interact with its other Star Wars iPhone-controlled droids, as well as react to Star Wars films when users watch with the droid nearby. Sphero said that BB-9E will receive consistent updates, including new voice lines, particularly as the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi draws closer.

Additionally, Sphero revealed an iPhone-controlled R2-D2 droid (priced at $179), which includes all of the same features as the other Star Wars products from Sphero. R2-D2 can patrol on its own and includes fully-functioning LED lights and an integrated speaker that produces the droid's recognizable sounds.


Both BB-9E and R2-D2 use the same app that Sphero launched with BB-8 two years ago, so users can simply keep adding new droids to play around with, without needing to download a separate app for each. Both of the new droids will support a few augmented reality experiences in the connected app, where fans can view iconic Star Wars settings and characters through their iOS device, with the Sphero characters interacting in the same space.


AR games will also be available to play, and BB-9E is shipping with an "augmented reality platform," which users can place to keep the droid still in order to play AR games around it. BB-8 Sphero droids will be shipped with the same platforms starting today as well.

Force Friday II begins tomorrow, September 1, and previous reports have stated that Apple Stores will be getting a few Star Wars-themed items to participate in the toy release celebrations. Since BB-8 originally went on sale in Apple Stores for Force Friday back in 2015, it's expected for the same thing to happen this year for BB-9E and R2-D2, but many details regarding the shopping event are still under wraps with information about specific toy releases just beginning to emerge today.

If customers do stop in at an Apple Store this weekend, they'll be able to participate in a few Star Wars-themed sessions where they'll learn how to build a Star Wars trailer in iMovie, program a droid, and more.


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Apple Stores Hosting Free Star Wars-Themed Sessions Starting Friday

In celebration of Force Friday II later this week, Apple has invited customers to attend free Star Wars–themed sessions and workshops at select Apple retail stores between Friday, September 1 and Saturday, September 9.


Participating countries include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Spain, Hong Kong, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Most stores will offer a one-hour session called How To: Build Your Own Star Wars Trailer using an iPad and iMovie:
Explore how to create a Star Wars trailer with authentic footage from the films. You’ll discover signature Star Wars trailer-making techniques in an exclusive video from The Last Jedi director, Rian Johnson. Then you’ll create your own trailer complete with titles, transitions, sound effects, and official Star Wars music using iPad and iMovie.
There will also be Kids Hour: Coding the Droids from Star Wars, in which children ages six to 12 can learn how to program a BB-8 droid:
Join us for an exciting Kids Hour starring the galaxy's favorite droids. Using the same code developers use every day, kids will bring Star Wars droids to life by programming simple movements, loops, and more. Then they’ll design a maze and navigate their droids through the obstacles. Kids can bring their own iPad and Sphero robot, or we’ll provide them.
At Apple's flagship Union Square store in San Francisco, Lucasfilm's VFX and animation studio Industrial Light & Magic will explore how they use animation and 3D modeling to bring the Star Wars galaxy to life.


Force Friday II officially begins at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time on September 1 and runs through the weekend. The promotional campaign is for the film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which debuts in theaters December 15.

An earlier report said Apple retail stores may carry some new Star Wars toys or merchandise starting on Force Friday II.


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Disney Announces AR Scavenger Hunt for ‘Force Friday II’, Some Star Wars Toys Coming to Apple Stores

Two years after the original "Force Friday" launched in celebration of new toys and gadgets for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney is now gearing up for "Force Friday II," which will see the launch of new merchandise centered on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Force Friday II will run September 1 through September 3, with toys being sold at Apple, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, and more (via Reuters).

The items that will be at Apple retail locations have not yet been specified, but for the original Force Friday one of the most popular gadgets was Sphero's iPhone-controlled BB-8 droid, so there's a chance fans could see a similar toy launch next week. Force Friday II officially begins at 12:01 a.m. PT on Sept. 1, with more than 20,000 retail locations in 30 countries joining in on the Star Wars merchandise celebration, ahead of the debut of Star Wars: The Last Jedi this December.


Further enhancing the toy hunt this year is a new augmented reality experience for fans shopping during Force Friday II. Anyone who downloads the official Star Wars app for iOS [Direct Link] or Android devices will be able to scan select retail standees that have a "Find the Force" logo printed on them. When scanned, fans will activate and unlock various Star Wars characters, which they can then take pictures and videos with, post on social media, and unlock that character's data chip.


The more data chips collected, the more users will earn exclusive digital rewards, including Star Wars video clips and character emoji. Disney has shared a full list of retailers [PDF] that will have Find the Force AR logos for fans to interact with, and even some websites will have the logo for those who do their Force Friday II shopping online. Although Apple will be selling some Star Wars toys for the event, the company isn't listed as a retailer participating in the AR scavenger hunt.

Augmented reality has become an increasingly popular trend over the past year, and is expected to see an uptick in usage on iPhone devices running iOS 11 this fall, thanks to Apple's ARKit. The new developer platform allows developers to create iOS apps with advanced augmented reality features using the built-in camera, processors, and motion sensors found in iPhone and iPad. Ahead of the public launch of iOS 11, we've already seen some pretty interesting proof-of-concept demos for the technology, including AR apps for turn-by-turn directions, measuring tape, and furniture placement.


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Disney May Split Out Star Wars and Marvel Into Standalone Streaming Services

During its quarterly earnings report yesterday, Disney revealed that it plans to remove all of its content from Netflix and debut a streaming service of its own in 2019. The announcement didn't make clear which exact Disney-related pieces of content might be found within that service, but more information from the earnings report has been shared today by TechCrunch, with Disney CEO Bob Iger mentioning Marvel and Star Wars could get their own streaming services down the line.

This means that the 2019 service would be related to Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar films like Lilo and Stitch, Zootopia, Moana, and Finding Dory (all of which are on Netflix right now). Then, the company would debut a Marvel service for movies and television shows in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a Lucasfilm service for properties in the Star Wars universe.


Disney is said to be "considering" these services right now, but a decision "is not yet set in stone."
According to Disney CEO Bob Iger, the company is still considering how it wants to bring Marvel and LucasFilm titles to consumers. There’s been talk of launching proprietary Marvel and Star Wars services, he said on Disney’s earnings call on Thursday. But that decision is not yet set in stone.

“We’re mindful of the volume of product that would go into those services, and we want to be careful about that,” Iger explained.
Currently, Netflix subscribers can watch a number of shows and movies from these Disney-owned brands, including Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Iger mentioned that he and the company have also considered adding Marvel and Star Wars content into the new Disney streaming service. What's stopping this from happening is that they aren't sure that it would be "the right place for them [Marvel/Star Wars properties]," because of a potential lack of overlap between Disney and Pixar fans, and Marvel or Star Wars fans.

The Disney service will reportedly have enough content of its own, with the company's vast back catalogue of films and tv shows, early access to upcoming releases like Toy Story 4, and exclusive new original content.

According to Iger, if these Marvel and Star Wars services do happen, a Disney-created Marvel streaming platform will not interfere with the company's multiyear deal with Netflix, which has resulted in Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the upcoming team-up show The Defenders, as well as The Punisher. These original Netflix shows were formed under a separate deal from the one created in 2012, which will see Disney films leave Netflix ahead of the 2019 streaming service's launch.

Because of this, Disney "has no plans" to remove any of these original Marvel TV shows from Netflix, and Iger said that Disney is potentially willing to license even more Marvel characters to Netflix in the future.


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‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Trailer Recreated on Vintage Apple IIc Computer

Animator and illustrator Wahyu Ichwandardi has shared one of his newest projects on Twitter this week, where he recreated the entire two-minute trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi on a vintage Apple IIc from 1984, using the bitmap paint program Dazzle Draw and a KoalaPad+, both from the same year (via TechCrunch).

Image via @pinot on Instagram

The project required 48 floppy discs and 288 image files, totaling 6MB of storage space. For post processing, Ichwandardi used Apple Disk Transfer ProDOS software and a floppy disc emulator device to copy all 288 image files onto a modern MacBook Pro. The result is a full recreation of the first trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which debuted online in April.

It took Ichwandardi about three weeks to finish the project due to working with the limitations of the vintage hardware and software. Specifically, because Dazzle Draw doesn't have a layers feature, the illustrator had to physically lay an acetate sheet over the Apple IIc's monitor in order to create a guide for the animation in every frame of the trailer.

Complex animations required him to actually trace the characters and motion from the real trailer and redraw it back into Dazzle Draw. More information about his design process can be found in the video below.

Ichwandardi has posted a few updates regarding the Star Wars project on his Instagram page, where users can also check out some other art made on an Apple IIc. These include posters for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as well as an image of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

Tag: Star Wars

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Flying an X-Wing in virtual reality is absurdly cool

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Is the Rogue One-inspired X-Wing mission in Star Wars: Battlefront the best reason to own a PlayStation VR right now?

Yes. Yes it is.

The free virtual reality minigame feels like a dumbed down version of the classic PC game X-Wing, reborn. You hop into the iconic rebel fighter’s cockpit, blast a few TIE Fighters into oblivion and run circles around an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Oh yeah, you also get to watch the stars melt away right in front of you as your attack fighter leaps into hyperspace. OMG.

The Battlefront virtual reality mission is the best kind of fan service. Criterion Games, the studio that built it, had the right idea. Before the mission even starts, you’re deposited in an empty space with a parked X-Wing in front of you. Read more…

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