Break The Rules About Learning
There's no rule that says learning shouldn't be fun, or that playing can't be valuable. If there is, we created SPRK Edition to break it. We know that kids love Sphero, so we turned that love into learning and creation. SPRK makes the skills of the future approachable and practical. And most of all, fun.
• Ball So Hard: Sphero's tough polycarbonate shell protects the advanced tech inside.
• Drive the Revolution: Sphero is propelled by an electric motor - rolling up to 4.5 MPH.
• All Systems Glow: Sphero's ultra-bright LEDs give you over a million colors to choose from.
• Get Connected: Pair Sphero to your Bluetooth-enabled device and you're good to go.
• Programmed to Evolve: Sphero's intelligence can easily be hacked and programmed.
• Keep it Running: Place Sphero on the inductive charging base and let science do the rest.
Inspiring tomorrow's inventors and innovators
Sphero SPRK Edition will inspire a love of robotics, coding, and STEM principles... all through play. The SPRK community is thriving with thousands of kids shaping their future through fun and discovery. Fire up your imagination and break the rules of learning.
The new SPRK app
The SPRK app experience lets you give your robot the orders with visual blocks representing code - our own C-based language called OVAL. Immediately see the connection between the program you created and how the guts of your Sphero work and react. Sphero SPRK Edition will inspire a love of robotics, coding, and STEM principles... all through play.
I'm just going to say this up front, this is probably the best toy I've ever gotten! I have had several encounters with versions of the Sphero ball before, as well as the Ollie, but I have to say that I was blown away when I found out that there was a programmable version out on the market, and now I can see what all the hype was about. I am quite fond of programming and robotics, so I was curious to see what could be done with the SPRK, and was surprised to see quite a bit of potential within this thing. The first thing that I was impressed by was the fact that unlike the other Spheros I've encountered, this one's shell was fully see-through, allowing me to see how the Sphero physically operated for the first time.
After looking inside, I instantly began to understand the genius behind it's design, I recognized a few of the components, and saw how the ball was able to move forward, change directions, and even jump.All these things have let me see what is being put in some of today's robotics, and more importantly, how to construct it in a very space-efficient manner. It is nothing short of astounding to see the way in which processors, wheels, axles, motors, batteries, and a charging coil can be crammed into a sphere less than 3 inches in diameter, and still remain functional!
The motive behind the SPRK is quite noble, this version of the Sphero 2.0 was created to help young kids, or anyone who is a bit overwhelmed by the concept of programming, get into the knack or making their own digital creations. The reason this is such a big deal is because the 21st century has brought an explosion of new technological advances, after all, when I was less than 10 years old people were still using flip-phones, and now most people are using computers the size of a watch! The point is, with all these new advances, more jobs and careers are becoming digitized, careers such as I.T, Software Engineering, Robotics, and much more, so training the youth to handle technology on both the physical and digital frontiers is beyond genius.
The key to making programming kid friendly is to simplify the process of writing code, the SPRK does this through a special app that let's you use something called "block-based programming". I noticed that Sphero made a partnership with an organisation called "Hour of Code", and this made things interesting for me because I tried one of their courses once. The big thing behind block-based programming is that it is based off a popular analogy, where a program is similar to a LEGO creation, just a pile of smaller components which clip together to make something more complex and functional.
In the app, you are presented with a workspace and a series of categories, tapping on a category will bring up a small toolbar with a pile of drag-and-drop icons which you drag and drop into the workspace. These icons are code blocks which can be things like actions the Sphero performs, loops, events, delays, mathematical operators, as well as custom variables and functions. all of these icons form blocks which do indeed look like something between LEGO bricks and puzzle pieces, and they will actually show you where they connect to other code blocks. For instance, Events will connect to blocks below them, but not above them, so the event "On Program Start" cannot be in the middle of a lump of code, instead it is at the start of that block. Another example is the "On Impact" event, you cannot connect this event to the code above, but instead you add code below it to tell the Sphero what to do if it hits something.
This is indicated by the fact that the event blocks have a hole on the bottom, but not on top, and as it always has been in programming, the program is read and interpreted from top to bottom. Some code blocks are values, which you add into the places you would add numerical values into blocks like "Roll" and "Set Bearing", so instead of setting the bearing to a set value of, say, 90 degrees, you could set it to a variable which can be changed throughout the code. The way in which you enter values is also cool. There are 3 types of number values the app works with: regular numbers, angles, and speed values. The normal numbers are typed in using a calculator-like interface, angles are entered by dragging an arrow around a circle so you can physically see the angle, and speed values are entered by using a meter similar to the one you have on the driving interface. Oh yes, that is another feature of the app, by turning your device on it's side, a driving interface will appear, and you can steer the Sphero, change it's speed, and even change it's colour on the fly, something you can't do in most other Sphero apps.
To help those who are new to the app, there is a tutorial ready and waiting for you, and you can go back and play it whenever you want. There are also pre-made programs that you can run, pull apart, play around with, and modify. The app has recently undergone an update, and is no longer the single-player SPRK app, but instead it is now the web-enabled Lightning Lab, which introduces the ability to share your creations on a hub server, and also view other people's creations too. There is a feature you can access while inside a workspace, and that is reached by pressing the small green button in the lower-right of the screen and selecting "Sphero reveal". Tapping that will open a little seekable animation that shows the Sphero and the Ollie being pulled apart, and the animations ends with a diagram labeling all the different parts, which is another little educational feature. Another option you can explore by pressing the green button is the "Oval info", which shows you the raw code, or the code behind the blocks. This is a way to the educational experience a step further by being able to compare the raw code with the LEGO-like counterpart created by the student.
Now, that's enough about the programming aspect; this is the first Sphero I have been able to spend more than a few minutes with, so I'd like to talk about the bot in general. First off, I am impressed with the method used to charge the ball. Rather than having a plug on the ball, which would compromise it's air-tightness, the ball charges through induction. All you do is plug the charging stand (see through as well, kudos) into a wall socket, then place the Sphero on the stand. So long as the Sphero's internal mechanism isn't upside down or on too steep an angle, it will automatically adjust itself to line up to wire coils, one inside the ball, the other in the stand. once the two are lined up, the Sphero will enter sleep mode, and the base will start blinking, indicating that the ball is charging. I forgot to test the charging and use times for the SPRK, but I do know that I got a good 1 or 2 of hours of play out of it, before giving it a charging break which didn't last very long, so I would say that power efficiency is something the designers can pride themselves on. The mechanism is contained within a 2-piece poly-carbonate plastic shell, which has gotten a bit roughed up after some hardcore testing, but has no cracks or weaknesses, so it can stand up to a fair amount of abuse without any special case such as the Nubby case, which gives the ball a bit of an all-terrain modification.
Even after all my testing on hard ground, I had proof that the shell was still fully intact when I sent the Sphero for a bit of a swim, placing it in a bucket of water and driving it around, and it handled well. for obvious reasons, it drove a little slow in water, but adding 3 rubber bands around it allowed for a paddle-boat effect, which made it go a bit faster. But the important thing was that the seal still held, the Sphero had buoyancy, and no water got inside. I have also had fun using the Sphero for other things. This ball is %100 compatible with all the other Sphero 2.0 apps, so on my phone I have the Lightning lab for coding, the official Sphero 2.0 main app, and a game called Exile, which uses the ball as a joystick, all the gyros lock, and you tilt the Sphero to control a spaceship and fire at enemies, which is really fun, and provides good wrist exercise. This bot is probably the most agile remote-controlled toy I have seen, to test it's agility, I took it to the local skate park and drove it around, testing various stunts as well as testing the shell's endurance. During my trials, I was faced with a constant problem, however.
No matter which app I'm using, whenever the Sphero undergoes a lot of sudden motion, such as a jump, a spin, or a tumble down a hill, it can easily become disoriented, meaning that I either have to adjust to the shift in bearing, or re-align the Sphero, which can get a bit annoying, so be warned. Other than that, it handles fine, and I'm told it can travel at speeds up to 4.5 miles an hour, and after pushing this thing to it's full speed, I can say I find that a good approximation! Overall, I think that this edition of the Sphero is one worth buying, it will make a great Christmas prezzy (better hurry!), and is also an AWESOME educational tool. I would highly recommend this to any kid or tech-savvy gadget collector, as there are many things that can be done with this little robot, but the SPRK adds one more aspect above the rest. Please check out the video I added with the review, as it is a compilation of my experience with the Spero prior this review, and other than that, I'm all done here, enjoy!
One of the most obvious things about the SPRK is that the shell is fully clear. This is great for curious kids and adults alike as we finally get to see what the insides of a Sphero looks like. One of the most striking features is how compact the unit is inside, there is a lot of gear packed into a very small space and in a manner that seems to defy thermodynamics in that I can't see how it manages to dissipate the heat so readily. Obviously, to retain its water tightness, the shell must remain entirely sealed which is why there is a copper coil in the base for induction charging, something becoming more common in technology these days regardless of its form or function.
Utilising some very sensitive electronics, including gyro sensors, an inertial compass and accelerometers, this ball is extremely good at inertial navigation, but it would have to be in order to do its job. A fun example of this is to fully charge the ball and then knock on it twice with your knuckles, hold it in your hand and turn it around - it's interesting to note that the unit keeps its orientation no matter how much or how fast you twist the ball. You can even see how clever it is by putting it down in the recharging cradle so that it is not perfectly aligned, the internal unit will wiggle itself around to find the maximum induction signal strength before settling down into recharge cycle. Charging can take anywhere from 2:55 hours, depending on how long and how hard you've been driving it, and you should expect to get anywhere between 45 to 70 minutes of play time on a full charge.
There are a number of apps that can drive this unit, including the standard Sphero 2.0 app, and it's a good idea to have at least the standard Sphero and the SPRK apps installed on your device to maximise your play. Utilising the standard Sphero app you can use this in exactly the same manner as the standard Sphero 2.0 ball and you will find it to be just as much fun if not more so. For those who don't have a standard Sphero ball, getting this unit covers all the bases, as all of the bonus codes and in game credits are entirely within the app and are hardware independent. The SPRK app allows you to effectively run program macros on the ball, giving you full programmatic control over the ball's actions and reactions using a simple drag-and-drop program blocks that can be customised into a near infinite array of activities. The app comes with a number of sample programs which are simple in their own right and very easy to modify and experiment with to give an easy and quick understanding of how the system works. While this does work on a phone, unless it has a large screen, 7 inch display or better, I would strongly recommend using a Bluetooth enabled tablet for best visibility.
In the box is everything you will need to get started and have a lot of fun. You have the Sphero of course, the charging station and power adapter - which comes with four international plug adapters so you can take this with you anywhere you go in the world - as well is the usual manuals plus a pencil and notebook for jotting down your own programs. All you need to add is a smart device and the app of choice. Getting to grips with the apps is a relatively simple process and any kid will probably take to it far more readily than an adult, because kids are just clever like that. There is a lot of useful information online, and of course YouTube is an excellent resource. One of my favourite apps is a third-party one called "Sphero Companion" - it allows you to interact and control your Sphero using natural language. At present it is only available for android-based devices, but it is entirely free of charge and easy to download, install and use. It is a project under constant development, so the commands that it will recognise and the language it will accept is always improving.
Overall, this has to be one of the most fun toys I have come across in a while, and is much as I would dearly love to keep it myself I think it would be better served going to my teenage son who has a lot of interest in programming and this will help him learn the logic of programming in a far more interactive and entertaining way. I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes with this, and my deepest sympathy goes to the pets in the household. The educational opportunities of this unit are almost endless, limited only by the imagination of the programmer and the amount of floor space you have available to test drive on. With its durable polymer shell it survives outside almost as well as indoors, working equally well on concrete and asphalt surfaces, though I do not advise driving it on a road. Short grass will hinder its movement to a noticeable degree, and long grass will bring it to a standstill. Indoors wooden surfaces, lino and extremely tight weave industrial carpet are excellent surfaces drive this on. Extremely plush luxury carpet is not advised.
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