We got a close-up look at Sphero today, the “robotic ball gaming device” from Orbotix out of Boulder, Colorado. Sphero is a surprisingly sophisticated little remote control sphere about the size of a baseball that you control with your iOS or Android device (a version for Windows Phone is planned, they say). The device is durable, waterproof and instantly cute – Sphero can change colors thanks to an internal multi-colored LED.
Shake Sphero three times to wake it up and it’s ready to roll. Use your phone to control Sphero and away it goes. Or activate the gyroscope and you can steer Sphero around by tilting your phone this way and that. It’s instantly fun and responsive. I can imagine kids and adults getting hours of fun out of this thing.
What’s really interesting to me is that Sphero isn’t just a remote control ball, it’s a full-on gaming device. Sphero includes several free apps downloadable from iTunes or Google Play, all of which expand on the device’s replayability in fun and creative ways. A camera app, for example, allows you not only to control Sphero with your smartphone, but to record video at the same time (all the better to capture and share your cat’s reaction to the little glowing ball). There’s an Etch-A-Sketch-like app called Draw N’ Drive where you draw lines and squiggles on the screen that Sphero then mimics on the ground (and you shake the screen to clear it, natch). Sphero Golf uses your phone’s gyroscope – give your best swing and Sphero rolls off like a golf ball.
Orbotix has also opened the API, so developers are free to create games of their own using Sphero. The handful of apps that we saw demoed were clever and fun. I’m not a developer, but my mind immediately began spinning with possibilities. Sphero can even be used as a controller. Tilt Sphero this way and that to play games on your smartphone. One game, for example, has you tilting Sphero to match the color on your screen.
Sphero pairs to your smartphone via Bluetooth, giving you about 50-feet of distance. A single three-hour charge results in about an hour of play time and you recharge via the cable-free induction charger. Sphero retails for $129.99 and is available now from an e-retailer near you (Amazon, Brookstone). Look for Sphero in brick-and-mortar stores like Target in time for the holidays.
A few years ago, remote control helicopters were all the rage. We got one for my daughter, which gave her about 10 minutes of flight time per charge and then broke after about a month. Sphero is more expensive than an RC helicopter, of course, but the team at Orbotix has worked hard to give you more bang for your buck. As soon as they come out with one for Windows Phone, I’m snatching it up.