That’s why it’s always fun when you find an actual toy that you can partner up with your Android and actually have fun. (Or, if you’re not an overgrown kid yourself, allow your actual children to play with, instead.) The Sphero is one such gadget.
It’s a small white ball (thus the name) that has a Bluetooth-connected motor inside. Just download the Sphero app, and then pair the Sphero up with your mobile device, and then when you use the controls on the app, the ball looks like it’s rolling around all by itself. Yep, it’s the perfect combination for annoying your housepets. Between uses, the Sphero sits on a small induction charger pad specially designed for it.
When you first pair it up, a small blue light will shine through the white shell of the Sphero, and the app will ask you to point that light towards yourself. That way the app knows your orientation in relation to the ball, so it will always roll Sphero in the same direction.
Because of that, you can’t chase the ball around without remembering to re-orient your smartphone or tablet as you change your own orientation; even though you change direction, Sphero will still stick to the original relative directions. Consequently, it’s ideal to use Sphero in a space where you don’t have to move around much.
So the basic concept is simple: pair up Sphero and then drive it around using an Android app. Bored with basic white? You can change the colour of the LED light inside Sphero. You can even do pre-programmed tricks like making Sphero trace out a lightning bolt or the Apple command key pattern (yeah, it’s designed to work with iOS too).
Sound like something that would get boring quickly? Well, it actually has some more advanced features too.
In addition to the basic Sphero control app, you can download a number of free apps that can also connect to this little ball. For example, there’s an app called Sphero Golf that will help you create a golf course our of your local environment – you define what constitutes a hole, and then you can use the accelerometers inside your Android device to control your swing. (Like real golf, it takes practice to get the hang of it.)
There’s also an app called Etch-o-matic that allows you to pick up the Sphero and use it as a controller for an on-screen Etch-a-Sketch style app. Again, it takes a bit of time to get the hang of it.
These show that the Sphero is not just a one-trick pony: there are already a number of apps available for download, and there will almost certainly be more coming.
And if you’re buying this device for one of your kids, perhaps they’ll be inspired to start programming using the API and Mobile SDK packages that are available at the Sphero site.
Sphero will run you around $129.99 in Canada, and it’s available at Amazon.ca and FutureShop. While that might seem a little steep for something that looks like little more than a small white ball, it’s worth remembering that there’s actually a little robot inside…and a programmable one that might just fire up the imagination of your children, at that.