A new version of a robotic ball designed to be a fun way to get kids involved in coding and technology education, has been released. The Sphero SPRK can be controlled via smartphone app in the manner of remote-controlled cars, and can be programmed to perform a set of automated tasks.
The app uses a visual, block-like system. Users combine blocks to make the ball roll, spin, bounce, and change colors. They also have the option to look at the text-based code that makes up each block, which is in a modified version of C invented by Sphero, which they call OVAL. 12 sample programs are included in the app to get kids using the toy even if they don’t yet understand the simple block system.
The SPRK, unlike the previous incarnation, is transparent, allowing kids to see how the mechanisms inside control the ball’s movement.
Greg Nichols of ZDNet said that the devices don’t become obsolete:
The robots can also be programmed the old fashioned way, which means the toys age up as kids advance in their skills. I made my test unit dance to David Bowie. The future is here.
SPRK is pronounced like “spark,” and stands for “Schools-Parents-Robots-Kids.”
The ball was created by Sphero, a toy manufacturer founded in 2010, which was accelerated by Boulder-based Techstars and joined with Disney in 2014. Its previous version inspired an entire development community, writes Randy Slavey of Geek Dad.
Consumer Electronics quoted Rob Maigret, Sphero’s CCO, on their approach to developing a robot that both entertained and educated:
There’s no rule that says learning shouldn’t be fun, or that playing can’t be valuable. If there is, we created SPRK to break it. From a local meetup group to a robust classroom program, we never imagined SPRK would make such an impact. The community is thriving with hundreds of thousands of kids shaping their future through fun and discovery. Driven by SPRK’s success and statistics citing a growing need for coding skills, we knew it was time to take the next step with this robot. SPRK is for the makers, hackers, and dreamers of the future… for those who would rather learn by doing, not by watching.
Sphero’s previous toys have been used by groups and in classrooms to help kids get a foundation in coding.
Girls make up 35% of the market for Sphero’s toys, which is encouraging in a world where girls are repeatedly left out of and discouraged from STEM fields. SPRK and similar toys are trying to make a dent in the the disparity between what schools are teaching and what skills people need for their careers, as only 1 in 5 college students in the STEM fields believe that their K-12 education prepared them extremely well for their coursework.
According to JC Torres of SlashGear, the SPRK is available from a variety of retailers for $129.99.