OK, OK, so that title's a bit provocative, but take a look at xkcd #413, and tell me you don't immediately think "Randall Munroe invented BB-8 before BB-8 was invented!"

xkcd comic number 413, "New Pet"

(Note that this comic is from April 21, 2008. Yes, almost 8 years ago.)

Seriously, though: has anyone "official" at Disney credited or even mentioned xkcd and/or Randall Munroe (the writer of the webcomic) in relation to BB-8? What about at Sphero (which is the company which has been credited with giving Disney the idea for BB-8)?

  • 2
    There is a company that made it before it was a Star Wars robot - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphero - it is more likely a question of "did that company get inspired by xkcd?"
    – user12183
    Jan 6 '16 at 20:46
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    @MichaelT: I mentioned Sphero.
    – Martha
    Jan 6 '16 at 20:46
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    I'll point out also the xkcd schematic closely resembles the ones I've seen on the site about how bb8 works. But even if they were inspired by other sources, I'm 100 percent sure Disney will never own up to it for legal reasons, so there is no way to know, unless they were to get permission and credit Randall Munroe.
    – Kai
    Jan 6 '16 at 20:53
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    @Kai: about the mechanism, this is how some of the simpler attempts at BB-8 work. The problem with any sort of fixed-mast system, though, is that it doesn't allow the head to move (not rotate, but actually move) independently of the body, which is something we see the movie BB-8 do.
    – Martha
    Jan 6 '16 at 21:03
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    @Kai - let's hope someone breaks into Disney email same way they did Sony :) Jan 6 '16 at 21:31


(Answering the question "Did Disney or Sphero give Randall credit", not the title question, which is probably unanswerable).

First, what was Randall's innovation? It was not putting a robot inside a ball. Here's a patent for a robotic ball filed June 15, 2000, eight years before the comic publication date. His innovation was figuring out how to attach peripherals to the outside of the ball, using magnets. This was the thing that OP suspects Disney copied for BB-8.

Considering that Sphero filed a patent for this "MAGNETICALLY COUPLED ACCESSORY FOR A SELF-PROPELLED DEVICE", they are not giving Randall credit, otherwise they would not have filed a patent, or would at least would have included him in the list of inventors.


I have personally talked with Randall Monroe about this.

The question you ask is a bit hard to answer because you have to ask what "based off of" actually means.

Was XKCD the first to introduce to the world the concept of a robot? Obviously not.

Was XKCD the first to introduce to the world the concept of a robot in a ball? No

Was XKCD the first to introduce to the world the concept of a robot in a ball using omniwheels? I would argue yes. Randall has also told me yes.

Here are the facts:

  1. Disney's omniwheel patent was filed in 2010
  2. Randall's comic was released April 21, 2008
  3. Most importantly: Dirk Ruiken who is on the patent has on his personal website that he started working on a "Confidential: Disney Balancing Character" during the summer of 2008!

The summer of 2008 is when the patent holder first started working on BB8! This is only several months after Randall's comic was published. Do you think the comic may have had some part in the design?

When I asked Randall about his design he mentioned two key items to me

  1. He did come up the omni-wheel design on his own and he does not feel like doing anything about the Disney patent despite his comic being prior art because Disney is not making him take down his comic
  2. He mentioned that his design actually uses 3 omni-wheels instead of 4 because it is impossible for 3 points to wobble unlike 4 points. He said it was easier to draw 4 wheels which is why he did it.

As is the case with many inventions I believe everyone borrowed from each other. Although, the fact that the Disney's patent holder started work on BB8 after the comic was published, I am going to guess that BB8's engineers looked at the comic and it influenced the design.

I hope this best answers the question.

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    Interesting stuff. Not that I'm doubting you, but is any part of this conversation quotable/publishable?
    – Valorum
    Aug 2 '16 at 17:57
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    Here is the screenshot I took of the convo.. As far as quotability, I am relaying my summary and interpretation of the conversation. I do not possess a screenshot of the entire conversation, so it obviously can not be quoted word for word. Aug 9 '16 at 2:20


According to StarWars.com, Abrams envisioned the early design by himself.

When it came time to create a new astromech droid for the first film of a new Star Wars trilogy, director J.J. Abrams started as anyone might: he made a sketch on a napkin. It’s a fitting beginning, considering the handmade, warm look and feel of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The sketch was basic — two circles atop one another, with a tiny dot for an eye — but the core concept was there. And it was powerful enough to get the proverbial ball rolling for Lucasfilm concept designer Christian Alzmann. “J.J. wanted something rolling on a sphere, so I tried a lot of different designs developing that idea,” Alzmann says. “He would give direction on the kinds of shapes to use, and that led to a personality for the droid. Of course, the original sketch had very pleasing, round shapes, so you kind of figured it wasn’t going to be a very serious or angry character. Ultimately, BB-8 developed out of a back-and-forth process with J.J. where he gave feedback on each iteration of the design.”

The December 2015 issue of the magazine Popular Science gives the same story.

Popular Science: How was BB-8 conceived?

TFA Senior Animatronic Designer Josh Lee: It was J.J.'s idea. We first saw it as a sketch on a napkin that had been scanned and emailed over to us.

We can't prove that this is true, but there isn't really any reason to assume it isn't.

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