As the holiday shopping frenzy begins, a little robotic ball known as Sphero might be the perfect tech gift for someone who likes to be awed by the latest toy and the ingenuity that makes it work.
On its surface, it looks like a simple remote-control ball that you control using an Android or an iOS (iPhone, iPad, etc.) device. In some ways, that's exactly what it is. But the robotic technology packed into this unique ball from Orbotix makes the ball much more than that.
You can use the Sphero as a game controller or party game, program it, drive it, play pranks on people or chase pets with it, swim with it, change its color, update the firmware inside the ball, receive information from it to your smartphone and imagine more ways to play.
“There's definitely not any consumer robotic product out there that is as intelligent and sophisticated as the Sphero is,” said Chuck Lepley, Orbotix marketing manager.
The Sphero already has 20 mobile applications, most of them free, across its compatible devices that can control it, and developers are invited to create apps for their own ways to play with the ball. The polycarbonate ball is more durable than it first appears — it's waterproof and can be dropped from a height of three or four feet onto hard concrete “all day long” without damaging the technology inside, Lepley said.
The people at Orbotix loaned me a Sphero for review, and it was a hit around the office. The advanced technology inside it is apparent from the first time you start controlling it, and videos on the website show what developers had to create to make the ball work, which makes its capabilities even more impressive. The ball is fun for all ages, although my dog didn't like it; with all the apps, I kept wishing I had more time to play.
A drawback for many people was the $129 price tag; it would be more appealing in the $75 range because basically, it is an expensive toy. However, Lepley said the people who are familiar with robotics wonder how Orbotix could charge so little, especially since the ball is so advanced and versatile. He also notes that Orbotix consistently improves the Sphero's performance through updates and new app releases.
“Single and multiplayer apps let you engage in the virtual world and play in the real one. It's the ball, evolved,” reads promotional material for Sphero.