Review: The Sphero, A Ball With Personality

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The first time I was chased around a room by a glowing, buzzing ball I was in college and I had just come home from a rave. The last time was when I opened the Sphero and set it loose on my rug.

The Sphero is a ball with a brain. Designed by Orbotix, this 3-inch toy has an internal motor and a set of LEDs that can make it flash nearly any color of the rainbow. It’s run by iOS or Android apps that allow you to control the Sphero, play virtual golf, and draw images in light (albeit in a roundabout way).

We live in interesting times when it comes to hardware. It’s easier than ever to create cool stuff, as evidenced by the rise of gadgets like the Fitbit and the Parrot AR.Drone. The Sphero is no exception. It’s one of the coolest hardware projects I’ve seen in a while and the ease-of-use and simplicity of the concept is impressive.

Sphero is a toy and the kids in my house really enjoyed it… for a while. Sadly, I think Sphero will be relegated to the bottom of the toy box far too soon and the various apps that interact with it, while fun, aren’t all that compelling. After all, there are only so many ways you can sell “Make ball go forward. Now make ball turn green” before you get bored.

As a technological artifact, the ball is incredible. When’s the last time you’ve seen a small, self-propelled ball with built-in gyroscope, accelerometer, Bluetooth radio, and compass? You could put a little explosive in these and they could be a Bond villain.

Is the Sphero fun? Sure, for about a day. It would make a great desk or office toy and should be fun for cats (it’s clearly fun for 3-year-olds). It think the ball will be really great once Orbitix releases their SDK, allowing users more control over these wee fellows. For example, I could definitely see some cool applications in experimental robotics. Could you imagine a flock of these things rolling down the street.

As it stands right now the Sphero is cool – but maybe not cool enough. Give it a few months to see where the platform is headed and then maybe scoot over to the online store and get the ball rolling.

The Sphero is shipping now for $129.

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