bots IN BRIEF
ORBOTIX STAYS ON THE BALL
Sphero is a robotic ball that you can drive around with your smartphone.
It's a lot fun and it’s very cool how you can get down into its software and
mess with it, changing it from a relatively simple remote controlled toy into a
real autonomous robot. You can even control it with ROS.
Now, Orbotix has introduced the Sphero 2.0 which is packed with new
hardware that makes it faster, smarter, faster, brighter, and faster than ever.
(Did we mention it's faster? Because it's definitely faster.)
A quick rundown on the Sphero if you're not familiar: It's a roughly
softball-sized plastic sphere with a clever system inside that it uses to drive
itself around without having to rely on any external motors or controls.
Your interface with Sphero is through the Bluetooth connection on your
smartphone, and it's got a nifty little induction charging cradle to keep it
The new Sphero (officially called Sphero 2.0) looks much the same as the
original one — mainly because it has to be a sphere to work, which limits
external design changes. The real changes are inside in both hardware and
software. The flagship new feature (as you may have guessed) is that Sphero 2.0
is 2.0x as fast as Sphero 1.0. The original Sphero was lively enough, but this
new one is intimidatingly fast, with a maximum speed of well over two meters
Inside, there's a bigger and more powerful motor, fancy new firmware, and
the center of gravity has been lowered substantially. Realistically, when you're
starting out, this makes the robot nearly uncontrollable which is why when you
start with Sphero out of the box, the speed is cranked down a whole bunch.
Unlocking Sphero's top speed involves progressing through a series of
driving challenges which sounds annoying, except that you really do need the
practice before you're qualified to unleash that full two meters per second.
Once you're there, you can send Sphero off of jumps and stuff (included in the
box). It actually manages to catch a respectable amount of air.
Sphero's biggest issue when it comes to driving is that by definition it
doesn't have a lot of traction, so it has a little trouble accelerating and steering
on wood and tile floors. Plus, no matter how talented of a driver you are, you're
gonna crash into things. Badly. A lot.
Orbotix now sells a "nubby cover" which is a rubber jacket of sorts that you
can tuck Sphero into, giving it additional traction and some shock absorbing
capabilities. It also makes it easier to drive Sphero on water, because you can do
that since it's waterproof. The other hardware update on Sphero 2.0 is a new set
of RGB LEDs that makes it extra glowy. It's three times brighter and you can set
it to any color you like using an app.
Potential is what is most awesome about Sphero, however. Because you can
record and play back macros, and then look at the code that those macros create
and then modify it, Sphero provides a great way to get introduced to simple
programming, and with ROS integration you can get as complicated as you want.
Just don’t forget, it's still a fun little toy, and the 25 apps and games that it comes
with should help keep you entertained. Sphero 2.0 costs $130, with 1.0 dropping
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