Project Proposal: BB8


Since the first Star Wars movie came out and the general public was introduced to functional, and social robots, affectionately referred to as “droids”, the world immediately became captivated by them. With this franchise, George Lucas created an ideal of a robot. One with personality, style, and a pleasing chirping means of conversation. Many people have long had the desire for one of these loveable bots as their own. We can make that a reality. By focusing on the latest and arguably most popular version, BB8, we can bring this fantasy off the big screen and put it within reach of the fans.


Construction of this robot will teach the team members about dc motor control, wireless remote control via Bluetooth, Arduino microcontroller programming, servo control, and mechanical construction as well as computer programming using functions and classes.


Once completed, the robot can be useful for community outreach events and recruitment. The Avatar robots we have are very popular. From elementary school to college students, a lot of people have fun driving them around. With the added novelty of the popular character image, BB8 is sure to be at least as popular.


  • Build a working, life-sized, BB8 droid
    • Accurately recreate the film image
    • Remote control for initial robot
    • Incorporate Turtlebot follower design for autonomous operation
    • Overcome the mechanical challenges of a spherical droid with a magnetically coupled head unit


This project has many challenges that will need to be overcome.

  • Design and construction of a spherical body that must be smooth inside and out to allow the inner drive robot to move completely and allow the head to roll around.
  • Development of an internal robot that can motivate the body and magnetically couple to the head unit.
  • Incorporation of sensors and cameras for vision and sound detection.
  • Onboard computation of sensor input and motor control.
  • MP3 sound playback.
  • “Personality” algorithms that can portray the characteristics of a social robot.

Personality algorithms:

In the film, the BB8 unit elicits emotional responses from the audience by performing specific characteristic sounds and movements. It can portray excitement by tilting its head back and emitting sudden high-pitched squeaks. It can portray empathy by performing a slight twisting body motion and playing a slower, descending, multi-tonal chord. It is capable of suggesting a sarcastic tone with a more bass-tone chord and turning its head with the eye lens facing away from the subject.
These types of distinct patterns of movement and sound can be incorporated into subroutines that would let the robot give an impression of a personality. By incorporating the Turtlebot follower routines, we can link some of these subroutines to the movement to give the impression of intelligence. For example, if the robot is following a person and the person stops suddenly, an annoyed or surprised routine can run. If the person starts walking very fast, the robot can play an excited routine. These would allow a user to feel on a small scale that the robot is capable of understanding the situation and thus elicit an emotional response.