Introducing Sphero 2.0 by Orbotix: if you haven’t heard of this unique gaming platform yet, you are in for a treat. On the surface, there is nothing particular about the ball, it’s round, white with a little cute blue logo, but inside there is definitely something going on—an engine.
I place it on the charging dock and plug it to the wall. A light inside flashes and glows, changing colour several times. I download one of many apps and connect it to Bluetooth. I still don’t know what to expect.
Sphero 2.0 is more than your average RC toy and I learn that right away. First off, how many RC toys can I control with my iPhone? How many RC toys will allow me to upgrade, thus increasing the speed, adjusting the handling and changing the colour spectrum of the LED light inside? How many RC toys have over 25 free apps associated with it? These apps transform it from a simple controllable rolling hamster-ball to multiplayer games and augmented reality controller.
At the moment there isn’t much like it.
“We have set the standard for devices that connect to your smartphone that you play with, but it has more than one use,” says Chuck Lepley, marketing manager at Orbotix. “We are ahead of the curve and that is what we want our company to be—we want to create robots and that is what Sphero is—it’s a robot that can do these different things. We want people to expect more from their toys and their gadgets.”
Colorado-based Orbotix is not aiming to push the Sphero in any one direction. From the onset, there is a lot of appeal from different demographics. Children love the interactive game play, hackers love the programmable aspect of the device, parents enjoy the educational factor and pet dogs—well maybe they don’t appreciate Sphero as much. But there is no current intention of targeting one audience and turning the gaming platform into a robot vacuum cleaner. Yet the new technology is definitely opening a lot of doors.
Sphero 2.0 is a different device to different people; the same way a smartphone has different usage to different people. We are considering more today when we are making a purchase for a mobile device. Game play is becoming the next desirable feature for smartphone and tablet owners.
“If you look at where we are now,” Lepley tells Techvibes, “we didn’t expect our phones to be our CD and MP3 players. Even with tablets, [users are] watching movies and tv shows. We didn’t expect our phone to be our camera.”
I parade the Sphero 2.0 around for a bit, navigating it into crevasses of my house that I never knew a little glowing orb could go. Although the game play is innovative the controlling is not easy in tight parameters. The game requires the users to over come a slight learning curve.
In addition, Orbotix included a couple of ramps. But getting it to launch and catch any real airtime is difficult. The most surprising element of Sphero is that it’s waterproof. There isn’t any spectacular practical reason for Sphero to be afloat, but there is something mesmerizing about an illusive glowing ball playing Marco Polo with you in a swimming pool. Just be careful with your iPhone.
As technology develops and more companies catch on to Orbotix’s creations, they will begin to see that they’re doing more than passing the time with zombie attacks (Rolling Dead) and space invasions (Exile). Augmented reality has been around for a while, but never used in any significant way. Even though Sphero 2.0 can be as simple as a hot-potato game between friends and families, it might also be the stepping-stone to many more advanced gaming.
As well as sparking user’s imagination, the platform had attracted the attention of many other tech-savvy programmers looking to explore new innovative avenues.
“We do something called Hack-Fridays at our office,” says Lepley. “Every afternoon on Friday developers and engineers can work on whatever they want. One of our developers made this basic thing where he used the Sphero to control a teapot on the screen by tilting the ball. We thought it was really cool so we decided to make an app for it and it ended up being Exile. We then made several other apps like it. But there are third-party developers who make tilt-based games, they’ve included the option to use Sphero as a controller into their games.”
Since Orbotix introduced Sphero to the public in December 2011, there have been many more advances. The company is intending to increase their product line, adding to the family of robotic toys, as well as heightening the experience of the current Sphero 2.0.
Whether you intend to drive it around furniture or showcase it at parties or develop inventive programming with the MacroLab app, Sphero is a new breed of gaming. And it is now available in retail stores across Canada.