The Christmas toy season is quickly approaching, toy companies around the world are beavering away in their labs trying to formulate the latest must have toy. Orbotix, a small company from Boulder Colorado may have this years viral toy sitting in the palm of their hand, a toy named Sphero. Orbotix have taken the worlds oldest toy, the ball, and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 21st century in turn creating the worlds only remote-controlled intelligent ball. Sphero, he will roll his way into everyone’s hearts and minds.
“The idea is to combine Sphero, a real world robot ball with the virtual world of augmented reality and by doing so, enhance the overall gaming experience for the user. Augmented reality allows Sphero to become the object of any number of virtual games. Picture Sphero as a wrecking ball crushing virtual objects in your living room – the possibilities are endless.” Adam Wilson, Chief Software Architect.
Controlling Sphero is achieved via smartphone application, with both Apple and Android devices supported. The controls include movement, light colour and brightness, as well as custom games that can be downloaded from the various app stores, depending on the smart phone used. While idle or when powered down Sphero is a translucent white plastic, about the size of a baseball. Once he comes to life though his internal LED lights up, morphing Sphero into any colour you like.
Being a sphere has advantages but it does limit the placement of plugs and interfaces. Orbotix have worked around this not so minor issue with some very clever design, Bluetooth is used for control / communications and power is provided by induction charging, no cables required. Almost everything about Sphero is far too cute, even charging. Drive Sphero to the charge stand, give a little boost and come to rest on top of the charge stand, Sphero’s colour flashes to indicate he’s charging.
Orbotix have opened the controlling software to all developers, allowing anyone to develop games for Sphero or to integrate Sphero within any game. Sphero is part of a new generation of toys that include open developer API’s -Application Programming Interface-. This is open-source for the toy world, whole new kind of toy. New undiscovered purposes and games are being found everyday, recently software was created that uses Sphero like a track ball, rolling it in your hand moves the pointer on the screen, reversing the roles.
The most basic game of all is the included drive game. The user controls Sphero using the touch screen or tilt of the smartphone, the objective being to drive Sphero around an obstacle course you have laid out on the floor. Race against friends or against the clock. The Boost button can be used at anytime to give an extra jolt of power to climb over objects or overtake an opponent. This is a first generation game, with the player directly controlling Sphero. The second generation games will see the real world and virtual world will work together. Orbotix are working on a second gen game that see’s Sphero take on the role of a wrecking ball, destroying buildings shown only on the smartphones virtual display. This is augmented reality, with the virtual buildings overlaid on camera footage of the floor or room your in.
Orbotix have also developed a Golf game to play with Sphero, with Sphero playing the part of the golf ball of course. Controlled on the smartphone using a swipe gesture similar to most pool or snooker games, the swipe sends Sphero across the room, hopefully in the direction of the pin / hole. The video presented below is the golf game in action at night. The video also highlights how good Sphero looks at night, the LED lighting really looks stunning in darkness. The night golf video is bound to generate plenty of oww ahh moments, the LED lighting at night is definitely Sphero’s ace up its sleeve.
This is just the beginning for Sphero, the tip of the iceberg for smartphone controlled toys. New applications for Sphero are being developed each day. Accessories are also now an option with the Sphero trailer, is this a new kind of beer fetching robot ?
When you power up Sphero for the first time an odd smile will appear on your face, this is the power of Sphero. He’s an oddly amusing little chap. Orbotix have recently started taking pre-orders for Sphero, with availability in the next few months. Priced at $129 USD the kit comes with one Sphero, charger, controller app and Golf game. Can Sphero be the new toy of the year, will this mild-mannered sphere become the SuPerHero we know he can be ? Stay tuned as the story of Sphero develops.
Sphero Robotic Ball Night Golf
Buddha’s Brother out…