UC San Diego

'Star Wars' and its homely droid BB-8 put the spotlight on robotics

SAN DIEGO — Slow your roll, BB-8. It's time for your close-up.

Consumers are in full swoon over the roly-poly sort of homely little droid featured in the new "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Walt Disney Studios included a glimpse of BB-8 in a movie trailer that first aired in November 2014. People lit up social media with interest, basically asking, "Is this the droid we're looking for?"

The question was partly answered this fall when Sphero introduced a toy version of BB-8, a ball-shaped droid that has a highly expressive dome head and a vocabulary made up of cute beeps, whirs and whistles. Many retailers were soon overwhelmed with orders, even though...