Stormtroopers aren't widely considered the smartest, most effective citizens of the Star Wars Universe, but robotics developer UBTech is looking to make one your new best friend. After months of anticipation, the First Order Stormtrooper robot hit store shelves just a few days before Christmas, selling at Amazon, Best Buy and the Apple Store.
This 11-inch, app-controlled automaton can patrol a room, use facial recognition to identify you and play a simple game. Though future software updates could improve the experience, at present, the Stormtrooper doesn't provide enough functionality to justify its steep $299 price.
The robot, which is 11 inches high, is a faithful reproduction of a First Order Stormtrooper, though its stature makes it far less menacing. If nothing else, it will look awesome on your shelf. Our colleagues oohed and aahed at it, and they're full-grown adults (or so they say).
The robot has two legs, which it uses for walking, a pair of arms that can move up and down, and a rotating head. It comes with a small gun that you can stick in one of its hands, but the fingers don't move, so the robot cannot pick up anything. As for the gun, it's a nice prop, but the Stormtrooper will never point it at a person.
A set of microphones and speakers allows it to talk and recognize commands, while a camera lets it view its surroundings and use facial recognition. Sensors on the bottom of the feet help the robot detect when it's approaching the edge of a table so it can stop itself from falling off.
Downloading the app was easy enough, but that's because we had an iPhone and an iPad. You need a device running iOS 11, so Android owners can't control their own Stormtrooper just yet (though that's coming by the end of the month).
To control the Stormtrooper, you connect via Wi-Fi, using either your home network or going directly to the robot's internal modem (the app suggests that a home network is better). Setup is fairly straightforward. The app prompts you to connect to the robot via Wi-Fi direct, and the robot itself reads you both the password and its network SSID. We wish that there either were no password or that the password were written in the box, because it's annoying to have to write down what the robot is saying in real time.
If you want to go through your local network, which we'd recommend for maximum flexibility, you're asked to give the robot your router's SSID and password. The system then allows you to do a face scan so the robot can recognize you later, during gameplay.
You can skip the face scan — and you might want to — because the process is hit-and-miss. While some Tom's Guide staffers had no issues, another had to attempt the initial scan (which involves staring into the visor), at least five different times, because it kept failing. The facial-recognition feature is only useful in the "sentry" mode and, even there, it's not required.
After you're all set up, the app gives you three modes to choose from: Sentry, Mission and Training. In Sentry mode, the Stormtrooper patrols a 5 x 5 grid, stopping when it hears noises or sees unfamiliar faces. If the robot doesn't recognize someone, that individual can still get past, but only if he or she knows the password you assigned (they're all Star Wars phrases). You set the patrol route within the grid (for example, go up three squares and then turn right), and you can set the password, choosing from about a dozen terms (such as Kylo Ren, First Order).
In our testing, the robot often failed to recognize a face that had already been registered. Whether or not it recognizes you isn't that important, however, since you can say the password, and it will use voice recognition to determine whether you've said the right thing. But, the payoff here is really limited. If the robot approves you, it says something like "move along" and, if it rejects you, it asks you to leave. That's the whole thing.
Arguably the most "fun" of any of the choices, Mission mode has you send the Stormtrooper on quests to find data tapes or Resistance targets to destroy. Unfortunately, the game doesn't benefit much from actually being tied to the robot and would probably work just as well if it could run independently.
The robot walks on the planet Jakku, and uses its camera to superimpose it onto a room in your home, desk or wherever you're playing. What you see on-screen is the desert world of Jakku, with a skyline that shows your living room (a blue sky would have been just fine).
You direct the robot around a 5 x 5 grid and watch as the scenery changes in the app and the real-world robot walks across your floor. When you get to a location with tapes or a Resistance ship, you move a crosshairs around on screen — which also moves the robot's head — until you find the item. The problem is that the robot's movements aren't meaningful to the game; you could stick it in a box and ignore it, and the game would play the same way.
Perhaps if the robot interacted with real-world objects, the game would make more sense. Anki's Cozmo robot, for example, comes with three wireless cubes that it can detect and use as part of its gaming modes. The company says that it is working on content updates that will add more missions.
The last mode, Training, is a really rudimentary programming suite. You create "actions" by selecting a voice line ("Getting eyes on target!" "Engaging Resistance Scum!" "I'll need to search the area," etc.) and choosing a motion to go with it. Most of those motions are the robot moving its head in some way. There's not much to tell it do to.
You can then manually control the Stormtrooper, using a set of arrow buttons to make it walk around the room or rotate its head. You can then tap other buttons to perform any of the actions as you go, and you can also see what the robot's camera sees in real time.
At present, the Stormtrooper doesn't provide enough functionality to justify its steep $299 price.
The app itself doesn't allow you to capture photos or video of the robot's point of view, but you can take screenshots as you would in any iOS program. Images we saw through the camera were not particularly bright or sharp.
The problem is that just having it walk around via manual control isn't a particularly compelling experience, and the robot itself is rather slow. The Stormtrooper's gait seemed stable on wood and other smooth surfaces, but it appeared to waddle when we tried it on a carpet.
UBTech claims that the First Order Stormtrooper robot can last a strong 2 hours on a charge and, based on our anecdotal testing, we believe it. The robot endured some extensive play sessions without running out of juice.
The company also says that it takes an hour to charge and, indeed, after about 45 minutes, ours had gotten up to approximately 75 percent of capacity.
Future Updates and Programming
UBTech says that it plans a number of significant software updates for the First Order Stormtrooper robot. The company expects to add actual programming capability, with some form of block-based language, in the summer of 2018. A representative also said that there will soon be more missions and other entertainment content.
The Bottom Line
This First Order Stormtrooper robot's design appears in Episodes VII and VIII, but the experience of using it feels more like the prequels: disappointing. The robot's attractive design and strong hardware specs give it a lot of potential for future software improvements that could include serious programming and much more compelling games. However, with its current feature set, this is a difficult product to recommend, particularly at such a high price.
If you're interested in getting a Star Wars robot, there are a couple of BB-8 units that are a lot more functional for less money: the $129 Sphero BB-8 and Spin Master's voice-controlled Hero Droid BB-8, which is almost as big as the real one and costs just $149. If you want a robot friend that does facial recognition and plays with you, consider the $139 Anki Cozmo. Kids and teens who want to learn programming will also love UBTech's own Jimu robot series. And you could buy two or close to three of the robots we just recommended for the price of one First Order Stormtrooper robot.
Credit: Andrew Freedman/Tom's Guide