Real robotics behind BB-8, adorable new Star Wars droid

Much like an aging movie star, the iconic Star Wars droid R2-D2 is facing some stiff competition from a younger robot that is winning over fans with its cuteness.

BB-8 has emerged as the unlikely star of the upcoming "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens." Featured for only a few seconds in the movie trailer, this pint-sized robot - which looks like a rolling soccer ball with a robotic head - has grabbed the attention and hearts of Star Wars fans.

The newest droid made an appearance at the recent Star Wars celebration convention, turning heads and sparking applause with its smooth moves courtesy of its rolling ball. And like any emerging star, it will soon have its own action figure, small version of itself that is expected to be one of the hottest toys this holiday season.

The droid's arrival in Hollywood came courtesy of the robotic company Sphero, which last year participated in a Disney-sponsored contest for start-ups. The Colorado-based company first came out with an app-controlled ball in 2011 that caught the eye of Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger.

"Bob saw this Sphero product rolling around and kind of let them in on what was being created in 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and asked them, 'Could you bring this to life?'"Robert Maigret, Sphero's chief creative officer, said. "We felt, if there was anybody who could bring a ball to life, it was us."

Sphero's ultimate goal is to put a robot into every home, a dream that just got a boost with the release of the BB-8 toy. It will retail for about $150 dollars.

Along with sending it rolling through the house, fans can also record a short message that will appear in the app like a hologram.

The toy is part of a huge marketing and merchandise blitz by Disney that precedes the movie's opening, which is set for Dec. 18th.

Among its biggest promotions is Force Friday, taking place today and featuring scores of activities - including an 18-hour marathon "unboxing" event - ahead of the release of hundreds of toys related to the film in stores just after midnight.

  • Michael Casey

    Michael Casey covers the environment, science and technology for CBSNews.com