Other than lightsabers, faster-than-light spaceships, and Chewbacca, one of the coolest things in the Star Wars universe has always been the Jedi’s ability to control things with their minds. Now, a developer from IBM wants to give all of us this power—or, at least over our officially licensed Star Wars merchandise.
Joshua Carr, an engineer at IBM, created a way of tapping into the app-controlled miniature BB-8 droid made by robotic toy company Sphero that let him control its movements with his mind. Carr used a headset called the Emotiv Insight, which can measure some brain activity, and programed it to read his thoughts about motion as instructions for the diminutive BB-8. Carr said in a video released by IBM that he was inspired by the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Yoda lifts Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing spaceship out of the water using the Force. “I spent probably far too long than I’d like to admit staring at cars to see if I could move them.” Carr said. “To have that ability—to control my own ‘The Force’—that’s very cool.”
The app Carr built was created in IBM’s Bluemix software development ecosystem, which is designed to help developers quickly build out app ideas. As Business Insider points out, this nifty demonstration also “doubles as a sales pitch” for IBM’s software and creative prowess.
Sphero’s $150 BB-8 was one of the myriad toys launched as part of Disney’s Star Wars “Force Friday” merchandizing blitz back in September 2015, and was one of the most sought-after toys of this past holiday season. It’s currently controlled by a rather cumbersome mobile app that lets you maneuver the ball around, and set it to go out on patrol around your house—though that doesn’t always seem to work like it’s supposed to do.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, Sphero showcased a new wearable that lets users control BB-8’s movements using hand gestures. The “Force Band” is supposed to go on sale in the autumn, alongside a new version of the BB-8 toy with a “battle-worn” paint job. But considering Carr used a commercially available headset, and anyone can sign up for a demo account of Bluemix, we might all be controlling our toys with our brains instead of our hands before Sphero’s wearable comes out. IBM told Quartz that Carr’s app was relatively easy to set up, but wasn’t able to confirm if it was available for the general public to try out. If IBM’s other big bets on saving the company don’t work out, perhaps it can monetize using the Force.