Tech review: All-ages gadgets

Phil Pikelny

BB-8 Droid by Sphero


Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakenswon't be released in theatres until Dec. 18, but Disney has been promoting their Star Wars franchise toys and gadgets that have been on sale since early September.

Experts expect Star Wars merchandise to generate $3 billion in sales this year. One particular gadget has been sold out for over a month, but might be available to purchase for the gift-giving holidays-if the stars are aligned.

The BB-8 Droid manufactured by Sphero is certainly one of the biggest hits in the Star Wars line-up and a classic toy for adults as well as their children. The gadget is controlled by a free app on your smartphone or tablet and has impressively authentic movements and expressions. It is designed to recognize and react to its owner's voice. In true Star Wars fashion, the gadget can create and project augmented reality videos which Sphero labels "holographic." As you and BB-8 explore the galaxy (or backyard) together, it quickly becomes evident that the Droid is capable of displaying a mind of its own. This gadget is one of a growing number that learns and evolves as you play with it.

At 4-1/2 inches tall and cute as a button, BB-8 is the R2D2 of today. This spherical droid is expected to be one of the most charismatic characters introduced in Episode VII. He's a rolling ball (actually two balls) of fun. You'll just have to wait to play though. Amazon quoted a 2-3 month wait soon after the device became available.

On a side note, Sphero is a toy company that has been marketing their particular brand of robotic gadgets since 2011. They became one of the first members of Disney's Techstars program for startups, earning them a small investment as well as the kind of marketing and promotion that Disney has mastered over many decades.

Starter Robot Kit by MakeBlock


If you are truly into robots but would rather feel the satisfaction of making your own instead of buying one off the shelf, check out the Starter Robot Kit. MakeBlock's package includes all the mechanical parts and electronic modules you'll need to build a robot tank or a three-wheeled robot car that can be equipped to avoid obstacles put in its path. The company also offers more complex robotic gadget products if you are feeling adventurous. If you are old enough to remember the Erector Set toy from the late 1950s, MakeBlock is today's version of the classic gadget-building toy.



For a completely different and an "I can't believe no one thought of this before" kind of gadget, the AMPY MOVE motion charger may be the answer to never again having a smartphone or tablet run out of battery. The manufacturer calls this gadget the "world's smallest wearable motion-charger." Carry this wallet-sized device just like you would your cell phone by hanging it off your belt. As you move through your day, the AMPY MOVE converts your motion to stored battery power. For every hour you move around with this gadget, you'll have an hour of charging life for any device that gets its power through a USB connection.