Who didn’t get a thrill seeing little Yoda levitate the giant X-wing out of a Dagobah swamp or a chill when Darth Vader Force-choked an impetuous Imperial officer? The ability to move objects with a wave of your hand is an iconic part of the Star Wars movies – and now you can do it too! What’s more, you can wield this newfound power on BB-8, arguably the breakout star of the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
The Force Band is a new wearable device from Sphero, who made the app-enabled droid that was on every child’s wish list last Christmas. However, whereas before you could only steer this robotic ball using your phone or tablet, the wristwatch Force Band is packed with sensors that allow you to control it via Bluetooth with hand gestures.
Though it won’t quite reach a galaxy far, far away, the Force Band’s Bluetooth connectivity has a range of 25-30 metres, so you can let BB-8 zip off without fearing you will lose control. The Force Band’s battery will only last an hour of intensive BB-8 driving, but will last one to two days in the less power-hungry modes like Force Awareness. Charging takes 3 hours via a microUSB port, same as the BB-8 droid.
As the BB-8 that rolled across the sands of Jakku in The Force Awakens was a bit more weather-beaten than the original toy, Sphero has released a new Special Edition BB-8 with decorative scrapes and scratches to go with the Force Band. You can pick up either from 30 September, either buying both together along with a metal carry case for £169/$199 or buying the wearable on its for £69/$79. You can then use the Force Band with last year’s BB-8 droid as well as any of Sphero’s other rolling robots.
Master the way of the Jedi
We we’re lucky enough to get hands-on with the Force Band earlier this week. Though the act of waving hands to make the drone took some time getting used, that actual gesture controls were quite intuitive. For instance, to send BB-8 whizzing off in front of you, push your arm out in front of you, like you are throwing a ball. Controlling your speed is also incredibly simple, you just raise your arm up to speed up, lower it back down to slow down. The droid will come to a complete stop once you’ve lowered your arm all the way to your side.
If you’re playing with BB-8 indoors, inveitably it will get itself caught in a tight spot, perhaps under a desk. If you twist your wrist like you’re changing a lightbulb, the droid’s head will spin as well and this way you can refine which direction its facing and help steer it out of trouble. The only thing we struggled with was making BB-8 turn corners or drive round in a complete circle. You’re supposed to do this by arcing your arm left or right as it moves, however the only way we could do this was by turning our whole body. To help padawans master this ancient art for themselves, the BB-8 also includes a Force training game that teaches you a gesture using a virtual BB-8.
Duel with lightsabers
Of course, being a Jedi isn’t just about being able to magically control things with a wave of your hand – it’s also about fighting the Dark Side! Tap the button on your Force Band to switch from Droid Control Mode to Combat Training Mode, so next time you wave you arm around it will make the familiar hum of a lightsaber. This should make your next flashlight lightsaber fight all the more satisfying.
However, you can also add to your arsenal using the companion app. This will teach you different hand gestures that will produce different sounds, including both iconic Sith and Jedi lightsabers as well as Stormtrooper blasters.
Feel the Force – for real!
The final feature of the Force Band is Force Awareness Mode. While going about your day, you will sense ‘a disturbance in the Force.’ That’s to say, your Force Band will vibrate. If you wave your hand left and right, playing a hot and cold game to find the source of the ‘disturbance,’ you will earn so-called ‘holocrons.’ Holo-what? These are essentially playing cards featuring Star Wars favourites that you can collect.
The whole experience is not unlike playing Pokemon Go. It’s essentially an augmented reality game about collecting items, its just ‘augmenting’ your sense of touch rather than sight. There are other key differences though, which should make parents of younger players happy. Firstly, finding objects using Force Awareness isn’t based on geo-caching, so players won’t end up down a dark alley looking for an elusive Luke Skywalker holocron. Instead, it’s based on activity, so once the Force Band recognises you’ve moved around for long enough, it’ll reward you by vibrating. Secondly, you don’t have to carry a phone around with you as well as wear the Force Band to play. It will buzz and allow you to collect items independently, you just won’t know what you’ve got until you pair it with the app later on.
There are 75 holocrons to find, which may not sound like a lot, but some are a lot rarer than others and will take longer to find. Sphero have also said they may confirm more holocrons in time, perhaps to tie-in with a new Star Wars movie.
How does Sphero’s BB-8 actually work? Find out here.