Sphero meets Prank Patrol… and wins

Madeleine Swain
7 May, 2014
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As a general rule I really don’t like pranks. I think that Prank Patrol show on the telly – you know, the one that seems to be on every time you turn on ABC3 (if it’s not Deadly 60, which surely must be up to at least 760 by now, or the utterly brilliant Horrible Histories) – is just dreadful.

To this old curmudgeon, it seems to be all about teaching children to get a kick out of utterly humiliating and often scaring the pants off their supposedly nearest and dearest buddies. I saw one once (actually several times, I swear there’s a ‘broadcast, repeat, broadcast’ cycle at work here) that entailed a couple of young teenage boys believing they were about to be arrested for serious criminal offences.

Laugh? I never started. But I do digress.

What’s this got to do with Macworld Australia, I hear you ask? Well, as you can imagine we get sent a lot of press releases here at MW HQ, especially if we’ve featured a product or service in the past. Case in point: the Sphero, which launched its 2.0 version in Australia in October last year and we covered the launch. We also noted when the newest product in the line, the 2B, made its debut in January this year. So, naturally, Orbotix (the company behind the iOS and Android driven robotic toys) was keen to alert us to the latest news from the company.

First, it wants to remind us that the 2B is now called the Ollie. Good move. Who wants a toy that sounds like a pencil? One that sounds like a skateboard trick is always going to have more appeal.

Second, the company is keen to let us know that one of its founders, Ian Bernstein, is headed our way at the end of the month, for Vivid in Sydney and the EDUTech event in Brisbane on 4 and 5 June. Great. Hope you have a spiffing time, Ian.

Third, the company has just received a big hunk of change for funding further initiatives in the world of robotic gaming. And it has big plans.

“Four years ago when I woke up in the morning, I would think about how do we get into [start-up accelerator] Techstars,” says Bernstein, co-founder and CTO. “Today I wake up in the morning and think, how do we get a Sphero in the hands of every kid, every teacher, educator, parent, and help inspire the next generation of innovators? The toy market is ripe for disruption. Somebody needs to take these toys, make them connected, make them social, and make them better.”

Every kid? Wow! That’s ambition. And one that could seem a little overreaching. The press release Orbotix sent included a link to a video of a bunch of Spheros and Ollies swirling around an obstacle course, being put through their paces by a group of (it must be said) much older than kid-controllers. Interesting, but not really inspirational. But at the end of that clip, another one popped up, with a Sphero made up to look like an orange jumping around in a grocer’s shop and leaving a bunch of would-be shoppers scratching their heads.


Which one's the robot?


Yes, that’s where the prank rant at the head of this piece comes in. Admittedly, the video isn’t very long and doesn’t really exploit the idea to any great extent. But it certainly opens up some possibilities. And that was just the start. Another clip explores the fun you can have with a Sphero under an upside-down coffee cup in a cafe or then there’s this one, that features a lot of superglue and a rather lovely red AGA stove, but eventually gets to the point. You’ll probably have to wait until next Easter to try for yourself though.

But in all of the pranks filmed, nobody was embarrassed, humiliated or terrified. But they were all intrigued and entertained. Maybe it’s time to get our own Sphero off the shelf (where it has pretty much remained following the brief flurry of activity it experienced when it first entered the household) and start some harmless pranking of our own…


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