Initial Impressions of Sphero 2.0: The Best and Worst of the Digital Age

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 10.15.29 AMLast night I picked up a Sphero 2.0 from the Apple Store as I needed to test it out for a client project. After about 5 minutes I remarked to my wife that, “This is exactly what’s good and bad about my job. On the one hand, I get to play with these neat kinds of toys and call it work. On the other hand, it’s a $129 dollar ball.”

Initially, I thought my 8 month old puppy would love it, as it was more interactive then her usual analog tennis ball, but she was terrified by the thing. My 3 girls however, were enamored right away.

I’ve been using it for about 24 hours now and the thing is remarkably fun. It is after all a Bluetooth controlled robotic ball. It has a range of about 50 feet and is surprisingly fast and nimble on the controls. When on, it activates a color changing LED that adds to the overall whimsy of the experience.

Update: I was remarking to a few folks at the office that I was surprised that it didn’t have a camera, as it can be hard to pilot around walls. One of our admins remarked that if it had a camera, people would use it for upskirt pics. Fair point.

Sphero comes with a ton of potential apps, including games that blend digital and real-world environments for seemingly unique gaming experiences, most of which I haven’t tested yet but will do so soon. The hardware and software platform are open source, making it ripe for experimenting with. As such, here are some of the things I’m going to attempt to try with it over the next few weeks.

An engine for LEGO machines
My girls are big into LEGOs and this is probably due to the fact that their father is as well. I’ve been digging out all my old LEGO train tracks to build a train with them and thought I could build an engine for the Sphero to power it. The idea centers around making a gear system that would power the wheels of the train when the Sphero is activated to roll forward.

An event triggered notification system
You can already hack a Sphero to follow you around as long as you have your phone with you. It will stay within a certain distance and use it’s Bluetooth connection to stay with you like a puppy. I’m going to try and build some scripts that make it like a Chumby that moves. Is it about to rain? Come find me and blink blue. New twitter notification? Roll on over and blink yellow. These tricks may seem overtly pointless, but they begin to unlock the potential for the platform. I’d like to have that figured out before I cut the thing open and use the guts for something else.

An robotic pool cleaner
I don’t believe Sphero is rated for water, but a simple rigging of a waterproof shell should suffice. When we moved, we bought a house with a pool an the skimmer doesn’t always reach where there may be bugs. I’m going to try to build a water-tight skimming device for my round little friend and see how it works.

I’ll detail and report back how it goes, but I’d love to hear what ideas any of you might have. Who knows, maybe I’ll build it.

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3 Responses to “Initial Impressions of Sphero 2.0: The Best and Worst of the Digital Age”

  1. Dan Chichester March 11, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    An adherence system that actually stalks you? Love it! My son got one for Xmas, and has really gotten a lot of (wait for it) mileage out of it. I’m impressed by the more it “learns” (unlocks tricks) based on the time spent. I’m surprised the puppy behavior isn’t a built in option. Interested to hear what else you get out of it, Bill. (Or simply to see your plans for that Lego gear system.)

  2. David June 2, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Hey you state “You can already hack a Sphero to follow you around as long as you have your phone with you. It will stay within a certain distance and use it’s Bluetooth connection to stay with you like a puppy.” but i have not found a single source to show how to do this hack. Can you tell me where you found that or how to do it?

  3. Sean June 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    ‘Sphero follow me’ is not a valid function. Video marketing fluff right now. The Sphero face book page had a response from Orbotics that they were still working out the bugs. How does a Sphero know where you are? Location and range need two data points. It has to know where it is and has to know where you are relative to it. The Sphero device has no positioning capabilities.

    Does Bluetooth provide signal strength or range data? If Sphero had a way to know how far it was from the device running the app then it could randomly change direction until the range was closer. That would need a fairly sensitive/accurate range value to work though.

    The same ability that allows the iPhone to steer a Sphero by tilting the phone might also be used as a crude ‘follow me’ kind of steering. The iPhone accelerometer know what direction it moved in so move the Sphero in the same direction. But speed is unknown. And the directions need to be relative to each other and that is also unknown.

    I’d love for this to be a feature. It would make a nice “How do they do it?”.

    “It will stay within a certain distance and use it’s Bluetooth connection…” please provide a reference. The difficulty with an Internet search is all the Twitter ‘follow me’ text in every web page. I’ve found a few people asking “How?”. This is the only page I found claiming it is possible.

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