UBTECH’s robotic First Order Stormtrooper patrols AR battlefields

UBTECH’s Stormtrooper missed Force Friday and The Last Jedi’s release — no surprise, really. The robotic toy moves pretty slowly, all things told. Perhaps it was a matter of getting things just right, or maybe it was the pains of dealing with such a high-profile license for the first time. Whatever the case, the Chinese robotics startup has just taken the wraps off one last piece of Star Wars tech for the year — and it’s a doozy.

Unlike other Force Friday tech toys like Sphero’s various droids, the Stormtrooper is a traditional humanoid robot. It’s a full-bodied toy that walks on command — or, rather, shuffles a bit, really. The armor is based on designs from The Last Jedi, featuring some subtle changes over the First Order uniforms found in the Force Awakens. Of course, Stormtroopers were an interesting choice for a robotics startup.

After all, as your nerdiest friends will tell you, the Empire ditched droids for clones, and the First Order relies on people trained from birth to carry out its bidding. But UBTECH’s own hardware specialty made the characters better a fit than a BB-8 or R2-D2.

“We focus on humanoid robotics,” a spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch. “That involves limbs and walking. That’s something that we do well. Stormtroopers are universally identifiable. You see more Stormtroopers at Comic-Con than probably any other character.”

C-3PO was apparently in the running, but the character’s super-thin design would have thrown the product’s proportions off even more than they already are. As is, it has a bit of a cartoonishly large head.

The robot has a bunch of on-board sensors, including a light monitor, gyroscope accelerometer and an IR detector built into its feet that help stop it from going over the edge of a table — because Stormtroopers are dumb, but not that dumb. Once the robot detects the edge, it will make a U-turn to get itself back on track.

The helmet has a built-in camera that allows the user to see through the bot’s eyes via the connected iPad app. There also are three on-board mics that will allow for voice commands at some point.

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In the meantime, control all happens in the app. The company clearly worked closely with Disney — it’s got all the bells and whistles you’d expect, right down to the familiar strains of the John Williams score. It features a number of executable commands for simple movements like walking and drawing his blaster. More interestingly, the app also features AR contact, where the Stormtrooper executes longer missions in various Star Wars locales.

At $299, it’s an extremely pricey last-minute gift. And in the little time I got to see the robot in action, it doesn’t appear to have the same sort of replayability as Sphero’s instantly likable Star Wars toys, though a lot of that will depend on future software updates. For those who have the cash to spare, the robot went on sale December 15, not coincidentally, the same day the new movie hit theaters.