tech,  Writing

Tech Review: Sphero 2.0

Technology- and all the thing that entails- is a wonderful thing for writers.  I spend a lot of time working with tech products, and they help me in many ways. I look for ways to improve our writing lives, and in my last post I talked about Mechanical Keyboards.  The post before that, Speech to Text Apps. These are a great part of the writing life.

Life shouldn’t be all about work, so rather than talk about tools that make working on projects easier, this time I’ll talk about a toy for grownups.sphero 2.0
This fun tech toy is known as Sphero. The prototype was invented by Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, and debuted at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Its plastic case was developed with a 3D printer, and contained innards that would be found in a typical smartphone of that era, as well as a gyroscope and an accelerometer. I say era, because smartphones sure have come a long way since 2011! This original version was praised for its speed but was criticized for its high price and limited functionality. Battery life wasn’t all that great, either.
Fast forward to 2013, a newer and more improved version called Sphero 2.0 – App Controlled Robotic Ball  was released by a company called Orbotix. This time an open API (Application Programming Interface)- that allows any programmer to develop custom Apps for it (think of the Android system and how it allows much more freedom to add or remove or even alter its functions, compared to Apple’s very restrictive iOS operation system) renewed interest in the device. There are about 20 or so Apps available from different developers at the App Store and it’s also compatible with Android.
The Sphero 2.0 is controlled via your phone’s (or tablet’s) Bluetooth functionality. Normally Bluetooth only has a range of 10m, but Orbotix claims that the device has a 30m range. I’ve tried it and found it is closer to 15m for range.
Initially it starts off kind of slow (think of it being governed) out of the box, after you first charge it. It’s charged with the included charger which also acts as a base when you’re not using it. A key note: there are no holes in the Sphero to attach a cable to it for charging or updating the software. It’s all done wirelessly (just like those charging mats/pads for your cell phone that allow the device to be charged just by placing it on the conductive surface). If it had holes, it wouldn’t be waterproof.
Yep, I said waterproof! It can be completely submersed in your sink/bathtub/pool or toilet (although I don’t recommend the last one, for hygienic reasons). It’ll move with much effort in water. You’ll need to buy an optional rubber slip cover, called Nubby, available in several colors, for it to move with more ease not just in water, but even on grass and dirt. You can take the Sphero outside to play. It is really durable, and if you have children this means it is one less thing for them to hurt themselves with (or break).
You can even use it in the dark as it contains L.E.D.’s that glow from within. Its white shell isn’t transparent, but its plastic does allow some light to be seen. (There was a limited edition clear version available at one time, that allowed you to see its innards without having to crack it open, through Apple’s brick and mortar stores and their Website, but you’d probably have to hit up eBay for one, by now).
The more games you play with it (you need to install software on your phone/tablet to control it), the more it loosens up, the faster it goes, and the more functions you unlock. It kind of sounds like playing a Role Playing videogame and leveling up your character. You get to do more as you progress. Eventually it will reach speeds up to 4.5 mph. That doesn’t sound fast, but a plastic device a little bigger than a tennis ball that has some weight to it (it feels heavy and not at all cheaply made) that does that kind of speed, impresses me.
I have tried one, and I liked it so much that I bought the company! (I’m kidding, but if buying one actually meant you owned a tiny fraction of the company, kind of like how opening an account at a credit union entitles you to some of the profits, that would be neat!). As a side note, It’s a great stress reliever.
I actually own one (two, to be exact!). Well, my wife does, but I live with the philosophy that what’s hers is mine, and what’s mine, is hers – within reason. She lets our six year old son play with it around the main floor of our house (He doesn’t call it Sphero. He calls it “Orbo”). Fitting since it is an orb. Sure, it’s constantly bumping into furniture, doorways and our cat, but it sure takes a beating and keeps on going.
This brings me to the conclusion that the Sphero 2.0 isn’t just a toy for adults. With a little supervision, your children would enjoy playing with one, too. (Just don’t let them take it to school for show and tell).