A few weeks ago we visited Pixar to learn about the development and behind-the-scenes work that was put into the upcoming Cars 3, from how the story came to be to how technology has advanced into bringing the film’s new and returning animated characters to life. A few weeks later, we got hands-on with a special something that Sphero has been working on that collectors and fans can display and play with that embraces the core tenants of what Pixar puts into the cars of Cars: that they’re characters first.
Sphero, founded after completing Boulder Techstars in 2010, made a name for themselves in 2015 among the mainstream thanks to their impressive driving robots catching the eye of Disney and leading to the development of the app-controlled BB-8 that sold gangbusters. The company exploded after that and so it’s no surprise that partnership is growing with today’s official unveiling of Sphero’s Ultimate Lightning McQueen. If you thought BB-8’s movement, sound, and app features were impressive, this take on the star of the Cars franchise will blow you away.
Like the BB-8, the Ultimate Lightning McQueen is also app-enabled. It’s an interactive race car that uses the newest advancements in technology to create the most lifelike Lightning McQueen product ever with animatronic features, detailed lighting and design-work, the voice of Owen Wilson, moving eyes and mouth, and more. It blends together the notable personality of McQueen with performance specs including driving, drifting, racing and reactive touch. And we had a chance to play with it and see it all come to life!
Paul Berberian, CEO of Sphero:
“From the beginning, we wanted to make Ultimate Lightning McQueen feel as real as he does in the film. In order to create a scaled down version of his big personality, we worked closely with the team at Pixar to ensure we were getting his nuances just right – such as leaning into turns and expressive facial and body movements.”
Ultimate Lightning McQueen is turned on simply connecting to the car’s app (available on iOS and Android devices) where you can then watch him respond to commands. With animated eyes, an animatronic mouth, and emotive suspension, users can train for their next big race by playing games and experiencing other interactive features. When not in training mode, users can relax while watching Disney Pixar’s original Cars movie with Ultimate Lightning McQueen in “Watch With Me” mode, where he reacts to the movie in real-time, similar to how Star Wars fans can watch The Force Awakens and Rogue One with Sphero’s BB-8.
Ultimate Lightning McQueen Packaging
The first thing buyers will notice is the slick box which, when opened, doubles as a display base. The manual and recharge wire are included beneath that.
When meeting and chatting with the teams behind Cars 3, they all emphasized one thing: that the cars are characters first, and vehicles second. That’s what Sphero brings to the table in the Ultimate Lightning McQueen. You’ll notice this right away after activating the unit as he’ll react to your touch. Thanks to five capacitive touch panels, Lightning knows not only that you touched him, but where. He’ll move, talk, and look around. He even comes with an ambient light sensor which adjusts his own head and tail lights based on lighting in room.
The real revolutionary features come the life-like movement of the vehicle it self. Ultimate Lightning McQueen has six motors: one controlling the animatronic mouth, two for emotive suspension, two for the front tires and one for steering allowing for emotive suspension. Combined with the eye movement live-draws in real-time thanks to its own processor (the unit has three in total) and helps him animate.
With the voice, eyes, animatronic suspension and mouth, etc., all of it integrates together to bring him to life with over 300 animations and accompanying car sounds and lines of dialogue. And it does so naturally thanks to the 17 months of work, and 14 engineers working on the project. There are even two full-time animators at Sphero who worked on Ultimate Lightning McQueen, with consulting and coaching from Pixar’s lead animators and Creative Director Jay Ward to nail the subtleties so it all feels natural.
And the best part? With the app Sphero can (and will) add in content and provide other features and updates.
The Driving and App Features
We spent a lot of time playing with Sphero’s two BB-8 models over the last year or two and we can safely say that the Ultimate Lightning McQueen is far easier to drive around. Sure, it’s easier to tell what direction is forward given that it’s not a literal ball like our little Star Wars friend, but it’s much more than that. McQueen’s handling is silky smooth and easy to make sharp turns. Its tire materials allow Ultimate Lightning McQueen to drift on hard surfaces, average carpet conditions and at slow speeds.
Acceleration and breaking is smoother and the mobile app functions very well even at a distance. The most impressive aspect of driving Lightning though is how the character comes to live when moving as well since it was important for Sphero and Pixar that even the remote control racing aspect was like the character onscreen as well. McQueen literally leans into his turns, and just like when you’re watching a movie with him or interacting with him while he’s stationary, his eyes are active too.
Beyond driving and playing with Ultimate Lighting McQueen in idle mode – and in addition to watching Cars alongside him – Sphero’s Ultimate Lightning McQueen app includes a pit stop-inspired mini-game that you can play alongside the car. You can also build scripts from the included animations and see Lightning come to life.
Ultimate Lightning McQueen is available starting today on Sphero.com, Disney Store.com and Best Buy Canada, MSRP $375.00. In the United States, Ultimate Lightning McQueen is available for $300 USD.
Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that No. 95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage! Directed by Brian Fee (storyboard artist Cars, Cars 2), produced by Kevin Reher (A Bug’s Life, La Luna short) and co-produced by Andrea Warren (LAVA short), Cars 3 races into theaters on June 16.
Based in Boulder, CO, Sphero fuses physical, digital, and entertainment experiences to unlock the true potential of play and inspire tomorrow’s creators. Sphero was founded by Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson after completing Boulder Techstars in 2010. We’re now available in 80+ countries around the globe and have sold more than one million robots to date… and counting. We’re here to rattle cages, ruffle feathers, and reinvent entertainment… all for the sake of inspiration and creation. It’s time to defy convention and change the way the world thinks about play.