Beginner-Friendly Guide To Program Your Sphero BB-8 In 10 Minutes

Star Wars is one of the most famous movie franchises in the world.  The movies have such a broad cultural reach that even people who haven’t seen them can easily recognize many of the iconic characters and symbols.

Beginner-Friendly Guide To Program Your Sphero BB-8 In 10 Minutes

This reaches far beyond Darth Vader and lightsabers to the droids such as R2D2 and BB-8. 

BB-8 is one of the most exciting characters that was introduced in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2016. The little, rolling droid was an instant hit with fans of the franchise and beyond.

Because of the popularity of this sweet little droid, Sphero brought out a robot BB-8 that you can control. The BB-8 robot can be controlled via an app that you download onto your smartphone or tablet.

However, beyond the simple app, you can program your BB-8 to do what you want it to do. Below, we will look at how you can program your Sphero BB-8 to do what you want in only a few minutes. 

Programming Sphero BB-8

There are many things that you can program your BB-8 to do if you know how. There are two main approaches that you can use to create your own code for your Sphero BB-8 droid.

You can use the Sphero Edu app, which used to be called SPRK Lightning Lab app, or you can use the Tickle app. Both of these apps are free to download onto smartphones and tablets.

It is important to note that the Tickle app is currently only compatible with Apple products with up-to-date operating systems. They are working towards making the app available on Android devices in the future.

The Sphero Edu app is available on both Apple and Android operating systems. It can also be used on Amazon Kindle devices. 

For the purposes of this article, we are going to be focusing on the Sphero Edu app. 

Step One: Download 

The first step in using the Sphero Edu app to help program your BB-8 to do what you want is to download the app to your device. Simply search “Sphero Edu” in your app or play store and install the app.

When searching for the app, you may also find that there is a Google Chrome extension that you can install. However, it seems that this app is fraught with bugs and issues that make it incredibly difficult to use.

This might not be the best solution if you are trying to introduce yourself or your child to coding. 

Step Two: Set Up Your Account

Once the app has been installed onto your device, you will be prompted to set up an account. 

Sphero devices are often used in schools and classrooms dedicated to STEM and STEAM activities. Because of this, there is an option to set up an EDUCATOR account.

This account has plenty of features that can help you to manage classroom activities with the BB-8 droid. If you are a teacher, this can help you to incorporate BB-8 into your classroom. With this account, the app will collect sensor data.

This data can be downloaded and math or science students can work with the data as part of assignments or classroom work. 

You can also opt for the personal account which doesn’t have the features to help manage a classroom. However, it does have all of the features you need to program your BB-8 to do what you want. 

Once you have activated your chosen account, you will have access to the Sphero community. This is where you can see programs and videos that have been created by other users of the BB-8 droid and by Sphero developers. 

Because Sphero creates many different devices that can be programmed, you will find examples of programs for different products and applications. Within the community, you can view other programs, learn from them, and even modify them sometimes. 

Through the community, you have the opportunity to ramp up your skills and the BB-8’s abilities quickly. This helps to keep young students and children interested, holds their attention, and helps to build their confidence fast.

Step Three: Select Your Preferred Coding Mode

Once you have finished exploring the Sphero community, you can begin to look into writing your own code for the Sphero BB-8. There are three main ways that you can program the droid and any other Sphero robots you may have. 

Draw: One of the easiest ways to program your BB-8 is using the draw method. This allows you to draw a path that the droid will follow. This is a simple program that is great for beginners and younger children. It is similar to programming a robot vacuum. 

Block Programming: another option is Block Programming. This is very similar to other coding tools such as SCRATCH. This coding mode is block-based coding or programming that utilizes a drag-and-drop learning environment. Programmers are provided with “blocks” of instructions that they can use to construct animated stories and games. This is an entry-level activity. 

Text: With this coding mode, you can write javascript to control the BB-8 droid. For something slightly more complex than dragging and dropping instructions, you can choose to write javascript code to program your BB-8. This option is still suitable for beginners but requires a little more focus and understanding of programming. 

Step Four: Select Block Programming

Although you can choose any of the three programming options in the Sphero Edu app, we are going to be focusing on the block programming option.

This is because it is a great introduction to programming that is slightly more complex than the draw option and can easily segway into writing javascript in the future. 

The code that is developed with the block programming option generates javascript that is visible to the user. This is a great way to begin to learn javascript and understand the required formatting for certain instructions.

You can choose the instructions that you want the BB-8 droid to follow. Then view the code to see how different instructions are built upon one another. 

Block programming is also useful for avoiding the errors and the typing that come with writing code. This is a good way to help you focus on the logic of programming rather than the details. This creates a strong foundation for writing code in the future. 

Another aspect of the Sphero Edu app that makes block programming perfect for simple coding and learning the basics of code is that it provides users with an incredible range of instructions that you can use to make your BB-8 do just about anything.

You can make the droid complete simple moves and sounds to build your understanding of coding logic. You can also incorporate logic into your BB-8 to help it avoid conditions and objects within its surroundings. 

Once you have familiarized yourself with the block programming option, you can spend hours playing around with the things that you can make the BB-8 do.

Checking to see how the code is written for different instructions or programs can help develop a familiarity with the structure required for writing javascript code. 


BB-8 Sphero Apps

As we mentioned above, there are two main BB-8 Sphero apps that you can install to program your BB-8.

The Tickle app can be used by Apple users, but the Sphero Edu app is the more popular option due to the wider range of devices it can be used on. 

Once you have installed the app, you can connect your device to the BB-8 droid using Bluetooth connectivity. Once the droid is connected, there are plenty of options to interact with it without additional programming. 

Drive: You can instantly maneuver the BB-8 by moving your finger around the screen. The BB-8 will follow the direction of your finger movements. This can be a fun instant play option. It can also be used to understand the way in which the BB-8 moves. 

Message: This option allows you to use augmented reality with your device to view your BB-8. The BB-8 droid is viewed through your device. A video is then overlaid on the screen, complete with a pre-recorded message. You can also record your own message if you want to say something special or unique. 

Patrol: This quick option allows the droid to roam around your house. This is a mode that can be chosen and then left to its own devices. The droid is able to learn its way around your house using trial and error of encountering obstacles. 

Draw & Drive: If you don’t want to allow the droid to simply roam around your home freely, you can use the draw & drive option. You can draw a path on your device and the BB-8 droid will follow it when you place it on the floor. In this mode, the BB-8 will not learn to avoid obstacles so an open floor space is best for this option. 

Watch With Me: This is a really fun option that provides great fun with the BB-8 droid with very little effort. When you select this mode, sit the BB-8 next to you on the floor or couch while you watch Force Awakens or Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The Sphero BB-8 will react to what is happening in the movie as it plays. 

Force Band: This mode is only available for BB-8 models that come with the Force Band. This feature allows you to control the BB-8 droid with hand and arm gestures while you are wearing the wristband. The band is battery charged and connects to the BB-8 droid via Bluetooth. This can be a great way to feel like you are using The Force. 

Settings: As with any electronic device, there is also a settings option within the app. This allows you to personalize the use of your BB-8 within the app to give the ultimate experience. 

What Can You Do With Your Sphero?

We have covered the different options that are available without programming with the Sphero BB-8. These are things that can be done as soon as you connect the BB-8 to your device.

However, the most interesting thing about the BB-8 is the things that you can program it to do yourself. 

The Sphero Edu app gives you the freedom to make the BB-8 do what you want, however, there are some popular BB-8 projects that many Sphero BB-8 users enjoy. 

The most simple project that many users like to do with the BB-8 is to make it follow a path. This is often the first bit of programming that users complete as it is a great way to introduce them to the app and how it functions.

It can also be a fun way to play with simple coding without having to think too much about it. 

Another incredibly popular programming project is to create a cosmic bowling lane that uses BB-8 as the bowling ball. This project allows you to program BB-8 to roll toward the pins like a bowling ball.

The droid can make delightful chirps and squawks as it rolls along the floor. 

A simple but fun project is to make the BB-8 change colors when it enters certain rooms. This project can be a fun segway to programming the BB-8 to recognize which rooms it is in to learn your home. 

Finally, a fun and entertaining project for users is to program the BB-8 droid to sense a collision and make a sound. This can be a great way to give your BB-8 a fun and sweet personality. 

Final Thoughts

There are so many incredible things that you can do with your BB-8 droid. There are different types of code and programming that you can use depending on your experience level and understanding of coding.

This can be a great way to learn more about coding and introduce young children to the language of coding.

Suzy Anderson
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