After almost a year in development, Sphero 2.0 ‘Revealed’ was launched on Tuesday at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney with a demonstration and presentation by one of the two company founders, Ian Bernstein.
Bernstein and his co-founder, Adam Wilson, formed Orbotix a couple of years ago after being mentored through the TechStars program. Introducing the first iteration of Sphero at the end of that program, they managed to raise a million-dollar first round, thanks to the help of The Foundry Group and its managing director Brad Feld, who also acted as one of the duo’s mentors, along with Paul Berberian (who went on to become Orbotix’s CEO).
Bernstein was home schooled and built his first robot when he was 12 ”out of a bunch of scraps, cassette players and stuff” at a workshop attached to a robotics competition he was taken to by his father. And he’s clearly never looked back.
But why the update?
“One was fun,” he says. “But with two, just the fact that it’s over twice as fast makes it a lot more exciting. When you’re driving it, you can hit ramps, you can clear a 40-centimetre gap with the ramps that we include in the box and just as you’re driving it on the floor, if it hits a little bump it gets crazy air. It’s just that much more exciting to use.”
Sphero 2.0 – which connects to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth up to a distance of 10 metres – is an update of the robotic ball, and there are several notable improvements on the earlier model.
Well, first there’s the speed. Sphero 2.0 can roll up to speeds of 2.1 metres a second, which is twice as fast as before. It’s also three times as bright with new multicolour LEDs in millions of possible colours. There are three accelorometers and three gyrometers included in the ball, while an updated idler wheel promises lower centre of gravity, less friction and those faster speeds.
It’s also waterproof, and animal proof (well, as long as your cat or dog doesn’t have a jaw the size of a lion or grizzly bear’s). An add-on Nubby cover gives another option for gameplay, while you can also use the Sphero 2.0 with augmented reality app games like The Rolling Dead and Sharky.
As Bernstein says, a couple of ramps are included in the box, leading Orbotix’s press release to claim that users can “catch big air right out of the box”. We’re not so sure about that. A first attempt at driving it on the floor of the Powerhouse found this correspondent unable to even come close to a single ramp.
Wrong demographic perhaps. “Kids just pick it up instantly,” says Bernstein. “They’re so good at this stuff, and if you’re a hardcore video gamer, you pick it up pretty quick. If you spend 15 minutes, you’d probably get it pretty well.”
In the meantime, the beguiling ball is available at the not so beguiling price of $179.95 and comes with more than 25 free games which can be downloaded from either the iTunes or Googleplay app stores. Orbotix has aligned exclusively with Apple, so here in Australia, the ball can be bought at Apple stores (online and in stores), Myer (online) and at Tech2Go. For a full list of retailers click here.
Macworld Australia attended the Sydney launch of Sphero 2.0 courtesy of Rocket Comms, on behalf of Orbotix.