Among Michael Bay’s many crimes, first and foremost in my mind is “making robots boring”. Even when I learned as a child that robots existed and mostly put together cars, there was still a fascination with them until Bay managed to make “giant robots fighting” into an epic three-part snoozefest. If only someone could make robots fun again.
Enter Sphero, a delighful app-powered robot for nerds, kids and normal folk (but mostly nerds). Sphero is a robotic ball gaming system that crams a ridiculous amount of technology into one of the simplest toys we have – the ball.
At first glance Sphero is simply a ball and the urge to bounce is hard to resist. Although obviously Sphero is bringing a lot more to the table. How much more? Well that’s actually one of the many interesting things about the device. Sphero is app-controlled and is more of a platform than a singular experience. There are a number of Sphero-related apps in the app store and a small community of nerds tweaking and building more all the time. So there are a whole host of things you could find yourself doing with it. It’s more than just a ball.
It is also a ball however and one of the simple pleasures of Sphero is hooking it up to your iPhone/Android via Bluetooth and using the accelerometer or on-screen controls to manipulate Sphero across the floor. It took me a while to “master” the control system but it’s pretty enjoyable zipping along between the discarded USB keys and iPhone cases that litter my floor. He also swims although I didn’t fancy running a bath to test this out.
You can also make Sphero change colour and controlling a robotic glowing ball of light darting about my carpet is not how I envisaged spending my evenings.
The open-ended nature of Sphero means it can be played with in various ways. There’s a macro app that enables you to create little subroutines and execute them on the spot. If you’re a bit more hardcore you can download the SDK and make a full blown app. One of the more interesting uses I found was using it as a controller to navigate an R-Type style shooter that was similar to playing with a Wii. I also tried out a fun little augmented reality app that utilised my iPad’s camera. Everyone I showed Sphero too was amazed but a little disappointed that you couldn’t have an onboard camera rolling around – even though I have no idea how this would work in practice.
Sphero was fun to play with in short burst and I really got into making little subroutines for it to interact with. It’s somewhere between toy and enthusiasts hobby kit although the price – £99.99 – should warn you that this is a lot more involved than your average app-cessory.
Sphero has just hit these shores and is available from stores such as MenKind and online from Amazon Firebox and Goshpero.com