Sphero (earlier known as Orbotix) is truly a remarkable story of a toy that made its way from garage of couple of engineers who wanted to make a fun robotic ball to all the way in becoming one of the best educational toys in the market. What more, its makers have now created a BB8 droid to be featured in latest Star Wars movie, which would soon be available on retail for everyone to buy. In their own words, Sphero is bringing “Connected Play” revolution to the toy industry in the world that has already started living in the age of Internet of Things.
Sphero is ball shaped robot that is controlled using tablets and smartphones. It is a perfect toy and an education companion for both kids of age 7-8 years and above and grown-ups. I might add that its grown-ups who might end up playing for hours with Sphero than kids. With over 30 apps (some only available in iOS devices) for an unlimited and creative gameplay, Sphero can literally turn any space in your home into an augmented reality video game. It is ideal for multi-player party games like tag, golf, or simple racing. Kids can learn programming with SPRK education program that comes free with Sphero using dedicated apps: MacroLab and orbBasic; kids can crate obstacle course or take part in STEM challenges.
What is Ollie is answered in simple tag line by the makers of Ollie - “Future of app enabled racing”. It couldn’t be defined any better. At 14 Miles per Hour, this has to be one of the best and durable app controlled racing robotic toy out there. You can also use it at night with its LED lights on.
On some retailer sites like Amazon.com, you might find a message that reads that Ollie is newer model of Sphero 2.0. This couldn’t be far from truth. While Ollie did come after Sphero, both are intended for very different purpose. Some people are also confused by the fact that company that manufactures Ollie is also named Sphero, changed from Orbotix to its flagship product name. (Hint: now you know the significance of Sphero for its own makers). Read on for complete detail on Sphero 2.0 and Ollie and find out which one is right for you.
“The app enabled ball that does it all” - that’s the tag line for Sphero 2.0. Let’s find out what exactly it can do. Sphero is robotic ball that connects to your smartphone or tablets over Bluetooth with range of 30 meters and can roll up to 7 feet per seconds, that’s close to 4.5 miles per hour. Or you can start jumping it with pop-out ramps that comes in the box with Sphero. It has built in multi-color LEDs that gives it light effect in combination of colors. It is waterproof too. It comes with over 30 apps in Android or Apple App Store that gives it plenty of different gameplay elements. And cherry on top is the free SPRK education program that can be downloaded for free from Sphero website and has series of lab exercises to teach kids programming and robotics concepts.
Sphero App is the primary app that helps in driving around, changing colors, complete built-in challenges, upgrade firmware, or purchase or earn new tricks inside app etc. Driving app allows you to create obstacle courses or draw a path on screen that enables the Draw N Drive mode to see Sphero replicate path in real world. Augmented reality apps like Sharky the Beaver turns Sphero into a cute Beaver on your smartphone screen. Another augmented reality app allows you to shoot and kill zombies in your room with Sphero. Some of the multi-player games like Tag use Sphero’s sensors for collision detection and lights to bump into other players Sphero and knock them out; or the Golf that allows you to play golf with your phone as controller and hitting the ball in the hole. Talking about controllers, Sphero can also turn into game controller for some of the apps such as Exile app that allows you to control your arcade style spaceship and shoot with Sphero. For party games, you can use table top apps like Pass the Sphero, Color Grab (grab it when it turns to particular color to get points), or Chromo - a coordination and memory challenge game.
Sphero comes with few accessories like Ramps for jumps, Chariots for racing, and Nuby covers or Turbo covers that gives Sphero protection against scratches and drops. It also gives additional traction during gameplay. While the toy is certainly durable, it isn’t advised to drop it more than about a foot high, throw it around, or let your pet chew on it.
Ollie was created after success of Sphero with one aim in mind - racing; though it can do lot more than just that with lot of cool tricks. Think of Ollie as X-Games edition of Sphero, but with not all the features of Sphero and some new ones of its own. At 14 MPH (now you know why you need 30 meters range in toys) you can really burn some rubber, literally.
In addition to racing, Ollie can spin and flip to have lots of different combination of tricks like quick spin, long spin, or modified spin. Some of the other tricks that Ollie can pull off are Crazy or Long Crazy Ollie Trick, Switch Drive, Quick and Long Grab etc. all with simple swipe of fingers in different direction on app’s trick pad. Just like old skater video games, perform a trick, and app will name the trick you just performed with Ollie, all in real time and in real world. You can enable the demo mode to see a short demonstration of its tricks.
Ollie comes in two editions, white and black known as “Dark Side”. Dark-side mode has some tricks of its own. For accessories, Ollie has custom tires and hubcaps for complete personalization experience. You don’t need to use tires mostly while driving indoor on smoother surface, but you will need to use your tires for driving on rough terrain or get some extra grip off the road. You can build your own race-course and jumps, and create custom trick combinations to share with others.
SPRK stands for Students, Parents, Robots, and Kids, quite rightly a very strong foundation for STEM education’s future. SPRK is a special education program created by makers of Sphero and Ollie for parents, teachers, and kids. Sphero and Ollie go by mantra that play is a powerful teacher and kids learn more by experience in a fun and creative way. Free SPRK lessons provide a sort of crash course in programming concepts while sharpening math and science skills. It is divided into three parts:
Core lessons from SPRK explore the concepts of math and science through programming. It has 5 MacroLab lessons followed by 3 OrbBasic lessons. The MacroLab lessons contain a visual programming app while OrbBasic has textual programming. MacroLab lessons prepare foundation for more advanced OrbBasic lessons. Each lessons contains step-by-step instructions for teachers or parents, a student guide and worksheet. Best part is that these lessons align with the school curriculum of typical 3rd to 5th grade.
MacroLab app teaches concepts of time, speed, and distance, arithmetic mean, median, mode, patterns & colors, basic geometry, and percentages.
OrbBasic contains concepts of variables, conditional loops, and more advanced sensors and random number generator.
The middle school lessons contains real world challenges for kids to work on using both visual and text-based programming in MacroLab and OrbBasic apps such as engineering challenges, ocean research, emergency situation respondent etc. Some of the lessons are percentage error corrections, multi-direction driving, assistive lessons etc.
Kids can take up STEM challenges after completing the core lessons. The STEM challenges span over days and are aimed at not only teaching concepts of STEM, but also teamwork and critical problem solving which is essential in every aspect of life. You’ll probably need to spend a little extra and get some of the accessories for completing all the STEM challenges, but its definitely worth it. By now your kid would be glued to Sphero and unlike video games, you will love it most since it is teaching your kids along every step.
Some of the STEM challenges are Chariot challenge to build Sphero powered chariots and race against other teams. Hydro Hypothesis, an Sphero powered gadget in a race to carry a load around a swimming pool. Other challenges include Bridge building, Maze running etc.
As you can see from the image from gosphero.com, Sphero 2.0 and Ollie are built for two very different purposes. Ollie is outdoor adrenaline junkie while Sphero is an intelligent bot that likes to party. Ollie isn’t waterproof, just water repellent, while Sphero can take a dive in the pool. Ollie works with just 4 apps, whereas you get over 30 apps and ton of game play with Sphero 2.0 with all the SPRK goodies. To be honest, both shouldn’t be compared except that both are equally good for what they are built for.
Sphero 2.0 is an ideal toy for kids and grown-up alike. It’s perfect for parties, family fun, multi-player games, and anything else that you want to do with it. The SPRK education program really adds to the overall experience and makes it a fantastic educational toy. Ollie is really more of toy for racing and tricks. If you are buying for older kids or grown-ups for mostly outdoor play and tricks to show your friends, you should go for Ollie, for everything else Sphero 2.0 is your bot.
If you need an educational robot for younger kids, check out our review of Dash and Dot - Robots that Teach Programming.
STEM is acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in education. There is a growing need to integrate all these subjects so that students can better understand real-world application of these subjects. Learning through experience creates a lasting effect and produces better result. STEM toys and activities encourages kids to develop STEM skills in fun and creative way. Today you have a lot more options to choose from than ever before. Our mission is to help you find the right resources for yours kids so that you can play the most important role in the foundation of STEM's future, that of a parent.