Technology

With Sphero Bolt, The Colorado Startup Doubles Down On Education

Sphero Bolt
Image Source: Sphero / YouTube video (screenshot)

Boulder, Colorado-based robotics firm Sphero told media earlier this year that it was going to renew its focus on educational robots. The startup has now announced a new product to cater to the educational markets. Sphero Bolt is an upgraded version of Sprk+, which was released a couple of years ago. Sphero is shifting from cute toys that weren’t selling well to education, where its machines are proving useful.

Sphero is the company that collaborated with Disney to bring personality-filled toys such as R2D2, BB-8, Ultimate Lightning McQueen, Spider-Man, and others. The new Sphero Bolt looks similar to the Sprk+, but it has received many upgrades. Adam Wilson, the co-founder and chief scientist at Sphero, said in an interview, “There’s always been a programming aspect to our products.”

Just like Sprk+, the Bolt can be remote-controlled from a smartphone or tablet. The new robot has a “highly durable,” UV-coated, waterproof plastic shell. It includes a bunch of sensors including motor encoders, gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, and ambient light sensors. It connects to smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth, turning them into controllers from up to 100 feet away.

Sphero Bolt has double the battery life of Sprk+

According to Wilson, the Sphero products have already become part of the curriculums of more than 20,000 schools. The Sphero Bolt is based on feedback from educators. They were complaining about Sprk+’s battery life as they wanted the devices to last all day rather than just a couple of classes. The Bolt offers double the battery life of the Sprk+. However, it continues to use the inductive cradle for charging rather than switching to a USB-C port.

The biggest highlight of the Sphero Bolt is its full-output display. It features an 8 x 8 LED matrix in the center than animates in real time. You can program it to display almost anything from games to animations to some cool design that responds to data from its sensors. The display also shows you the battery life and messages, as well as play games.

An equally interesting thing about Sphero Bolt is the four new infrared sensors. The sensors allow multiple Bolt robots to communicate with each other, enabling robot-to-robot interactions. This will prove particularly useful in classroom settings where there will be multiple Bolts. Wilson says the addition of new sensors will offer “a much deeper learning experience.”

Sphere Edu also gets an upgrade

The Sphero Bolt connects with the same Sphero Play app that was used for the Sphero Mini robot last year. However, the Play app doesn’t allow you to take full advantage of Bolt’s new features. That job is done by the upgraded Sphero Edu app. You will be able to use the Sphero Edu app to program games to run on its display.

If you are running the app on devices with large displays such as Windows laptops, Chromebooks, Macs, and tablets, you can use a toggle button to split the programming interface into two. It makes things a lot easier. Previously, users had to switch between them frequently. Though the Sphero Edu app is targeted at schools, it can also be used by parents and children in home settings.

Sphero has priced the Bolt at $149 in the US, which is higher than Sprk+’s $130. It includes stickers, an inductive charging cradle, and a protractor. The company also offer its latest robotic balls in a pack of 15, which costs $1,950 and is aimed at educations. With its latest offering, the Colorado startup is not only targeting the education market but also general consumers. The educational robotic toys are becoming increasingly popular in the United States.