We’re Real Adults, So We Played with All the Cool Star Wars Tech Toys from Force Friday

Tech Features Force Friday
We’re Real Adults, So We Played with All the Cool Star Wars Tech Toys from Force Friday

Leading up to the launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi later this year, Disney is helping fans celebrate with a number of new toys that are inspired by the movie. All of these toys add some element of technology, bringing them up to date with the modern era, and some will even help kids learn the basics of coding and programming.

To launch these toys, Disney and Lucasfilm have partnered with Lenovo, Sphero, Little Bits, Hasbro and Propel.

Jedi Challenge: Bringing You to a Galaxy Far, Far Away Through Augmented Reality

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With its Lenovo collaboration, Disney celebrates The Last Jedi by bringing you into the Star Wars universe through a new augmented reality experience called the Star Wars Jedi Challenge. Unlike desktop-powered VR experiences, this is an experience that’s driven entirely by your smartphone, which means you won’t need a ton of horsepower and there aren’t any wires that would restrict your movement.

And while this may sound similar to existing smartphone-driven VR experiences today, like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream headsets, there are some notable differences. The Disney-designed and Lenovo-made Star Wars experience headset comes with cameras on the headsets, which brings the physical outside world into the VR experience, and tracking beacons add in elements from the real world to the virtual world.

“Equipped with two built-in fisheye cameras within the device to provide inside-out positional tracking, the headset allows for free and natural motion for the player to move around as they duel opponents or direct their forces and pieces across the battlefield,” Lenovo said in a press release.

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According to Disney representatives I spoke with in advance of the Force Friday II launch in San Francisco, California, this reduces eye fatigue, and the mechanism to drive the AR experience is also different. Rather than placing the phone’s display directly in front of your eyes, boxing you in, the phone’s screen is placed at a 90-degree angle from your face. Mirrors help bring the image into focus with your eyes, giving you an even more immersive experience.

The headset itself is powered by a 2200 mAh battery, and it will work with both iOS and Android smartphones. Disney says that most modern phones should work, but because it’s driven for AR, anything smaller than an iPhone 6 may not deliver an optimal viewing experience.

In my brief demo with the headset, the straps are very comfortable, and the 1.04-pound weight of the headset feels very evenly distributed so that it’s not forward-heavy. When you’re holding the Lightsaber, the cameras in the headset will track the controller and display an AR version of the Lightsaber inside the headset.

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In addition to the headset, there is also a Lightsaber controller and tracking beacon. The Jedi Challenges game allows you to hone your skills by battling the new Star Wars Archivist character, and each game teaches you new tactics and strategy to win. Because it is app-driven, Disney can also expand the game in the future through expansion packs to deliver even more advanced levels of game play.

In designing this AR experience, Disney reps told me that nothing exists on the market today that would allow the company to deliver this type of experience to users, so it had to create its own wearable.

Pricing starts at $199, and the AR experience will be available online and at Best Buy retail stores in the US beginning November.

Sphero: The Droid You Want

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Following the launch of the popular BB-8 droid, Sphero is back again this year to partner with Disney to launch two more Star Wars droids: R2-D2 and BB-9E. All three droids come with similar capabilities, allowing you to drive them around through smartphone-controlled apps, light up with LEDs and integrate with the SpheroEDU app to introduce children to coding, adding an educational element to the toy.

Additionally, if you’re watching various Star Wars movies, the “Watch With Me” feature allows all three droids to react differently to various segments throughout the film, bringing interactivity to movie watching.

All three droids are compatible with iOS and Android phones, and battery life is rated for about one hour of play. To recharge, R2-D2 needs to be plugged in with a micro USB cable, but BB-8 and BB-9E use inductive recharging and can be wirelessly recharged with the included charging plates. To connect to your phone, the droids pair over Bluetooth, and range is about 100 feet.

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Through the app, you can control your droirds and tell them to turn or go forward. You can also draw with your finger a map, and your droids will follow that map to move around. While BB-8 and BB-9E roll around on their spherical platform, Sphero introduced some new movements for R2-D2. R2-D2 can convert between bipod and tripod stances, and it can waddle.

R2-D2 will retail for $179 at launch, while BB-9E will cost $149. Both models will be available through Sphero or at retail at Apple, Amazon, Disney, Best Buy, and Target stores.

Little Bits: Coding Made Easy

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Little Bits playsets have been compared to Legos for coding, and for the Force Friday II partnership, the company is launching an R2-D2 kit with an array of sensors. Like Sphero, this toy will help kids learn how to code by using building blocks, and connecting different sensors together will allow the droid to interact with their environments differently.

Propel: Taking Flight

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While other toys place the Star Wars experiences on solid ground, Propel is taking to the skies with its drones and quadcopters. There are several models of drones in the initial launch series: the T-65 X-wing Starfighter, Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced x1 and a 74-Z speeder bike. These drones are capable of speeds up to 50km per hour, according to Propel, and the unique thing is that the propellers are placed on the underside rather than at the top.

This unique design makes Propel’s drones look more aesthetically pleasing—and less like quadcopter drone tools—according to reps in San Francisco, but there are also unique challenges to overcome with this design. Because the center of gravity has changed, balancing the drone and the battery pack was a design challenge. Thankfully, the Propel team overcame these challenges, and the bottom-spinning blades make for a very attractive toy to fly or to showcase as collector’s pieces.

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While control of the drone is done solely through the bundled remote control, there is an app experience that will train you how to fly through simple lessons and obstacle courses. Once you’re ready, a multi-player mode will allow you to fly your drone and battle your friends. Propel’s Li-Fi technology, which uses light waves, makes for an interactive, real-time playing experience. This way, once you fire at another drone and strike, you’ll be able to get immediate feedback through your own controller.

If you’re a Star Wars fanatic, a limited edition collector’s series will feature the drone in a special box that comes with a wax seal. Break open the seal, and you’ll find a display case with the drone, lights and a speaker that plays the Star Wars tune. Each drone in the limited edition collection will come with its own serial number. The collector’s edition will be priced at $149 starting September 1. The models will be available at Target, Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Brookstone, Academy Sports, JC Penny and Barnes & Noble.

Hasbro: It’s All in the Wrist

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For its collaboration with Disney, Hasbro announced a number of new toys that integrate with a wristband. The wristband will pair with action figures, spaceships and play sets through an NFC-enabled chip. Additionally, it also comes with speakers to give you sound effects as you do battle.

Hasbro reps said that all the sounds are already preloaded onto the wristband, and that the purchase of the hardware, or action figures, will unlock the sounds. When you pick up the action figure, you’ll just tap it to the wristband, and the figure gets identified and the appropriate sound is loaded.

In addition to action figures, there’s a playset that’s shaped like a BB-8. Open up the playset, and there are rooms, trap doors and escape latches for your action figures to play in.

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