beanz Magazine

Introducing Sphero

Microservios on Flickr

Say hello to your new favourite robot: spherical, programmable, and durable. It can even swim!

Robots come in all shape and sizes. Some have legs, others wheels, and yet others are stationary. But have you ever seen a spherical robot? In other words a ball that rolls on command? Sphero is precisely that.

Why a Robotic Ball?

The idea of a robotic ball is fun. Most of us have seen cars controlled by remotes, and even drones being tested out at parks and other public spaces. In comparison, a ball seems mundane. But perhaps because of the familiarity of its shape, Sphero’s ability of move on command makes it as least as much of a novelty.

Imagine climbing atop a play structure at the local park with a mobile phone hidden in your hand and Sphero on the ground below. A young child comes up to investigate in mysterious ball, and you push “Start”. To the child’s surprise, the ball rolls off, as if deciding on its own to make a run for it!

Even better than Sphero’s ability to roll off with the press of a button it its ability to be programmed. The makers of Sphero created a coding environment called Lightning Labs, in which blocks of code can be clicked together (or JavaScript can be written) to change the way the ball rolls. If you want Sphero to roll off in a straight line for 10 seconds, shining a purple light as it goes, you can write a simple program such as that shown below:

With a tap on the screen, you can see the same code written in JavaScript:

Or maybe you want sphero to roll off in a zigzag pattern. That can be done as well:

Again, with just one click, we can view and edit this code in JavaScript as well:

Sphero can accelerate as it goes, stop and start again, make a variety of fun noises, and even perform some fancy calculations.

Spherical Fun Facts

The science of the spherical shape is something to consider. Because all of the electronics, including its power source, are permanently sealed in a sphere, it is recharged through electrical induction via usb. In the transparent SPRK+ ball, all of the electronic and mechanical parts can be seen, giving it a super technical appearance. And because of a trusty seal and a good deal of air inside the sphere, Sphero floats and swims unharmed in water. By writing a quick program with the power set high, Sphero can take a swim in a lake or pool, or even splash around safely at the beach (but watch out for tides that might sweep it away).

Resilient Robot

Sphero can be buried in wet sand, tossed into the pool, or rolled through the sand or snow just as well as it can roll across your living room floor. As such, it is one of the most outdoor friendly, household or classroom, robots available. A rough tumble onto a hard surface could crack the outer case, but otherwise Sphero is one tough robot that can be enjoyed as a toy just as well as a physical programming tool.

Learn More

Sphero activities

https://edu.sphero.com/cwists/category

New Yorker article: “A Whole New Ball Game”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/16/sphero-teaches-kids-to-code

Wired article: “How BB-8 – a Rolling Robot in a Galaxy Far, Far Away – Changed Everything for Sphero

https://www.wired.com/2015/12/how-bb-8a-rolling-robot-in-a-galaxy-far-far-awaychanged-everything-for-sphero/

How inductive charging works

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/inductionchargers.html

Also In The February 2018 Issue

In an era before telephones, a clever code was created to send messages by telegraph.

A simple coding activity that creates a virtual tic-tac-toe board with pieces.

Seven days to design, code, and debug a program with PyGame. What could go wrong?

Play with your friends or connect to Minecraft servers all around the world.

Turning scientific data into music can lead to new insights and new solutions.

Tools to help you design and print your own jewelry. Who says geeks can’t be fashionable?

Say hello to your new favorite robot: spherical, programmable, and durable. It can even swim!

The perfect language to help you transition into a new way of coding.

Create a new and improved variation of the classic 1960s board game with micro:bit.

Learn about the origin of Unix time, the calendar system used by digital devices.

Could a human brain be simulated by a computer? Would it think and feel like we do?

Links from the bottom of all the February 2018 articles, collected in one place for you to print, share, or bookmark.

Interesting stories about computer science, software programming, and technology for February 2018.