Sphero’s Educational Robot Comes in New Version

Sphero’s Educational Robot Comes in New Version

SPRK, an educational robot from Sphero, has been launched in a newer version, along with an upgrade to the Lightning Lab app, which was initially released in 2015 offering a wide variety of projects and educational ideas. Now, SPRK+ has been launched, along with a new app version. Both in cooperation with each other provide many entertaining challenges and projects, which are more of interactive lesson schedules.

Certain activities actually involve step-by-step coding, which is extremely easy and then there are other activities, which entail determining the creative use of the Sphero's movements. The price of SPRK+ is a bit more than SPRK as it includes a scratch-resistant coating, along with an improved tap-to-pair Bluetooth Smart connection with the robot. Enhanced Bluetooth will be helpful for those educators, who are required to establish a connection between multiple rolling Sphero robots.

The SPRK+ is silent in majority of the cases. However, new programmable sounds have been added to the new version of Lightning Lab app, which gives an impression of the little coding partner making beep and boop sounds. Numerous activities can be performed, out of which, some have been created by Sphero, while others have been developed by community. Several tasks can be performed, with some requiring coding, or constructing and concluding a task.

Others require the kids to design and complete mazes. Many activities have been developed on the STEM platform. Android, iOS or Amazon Fire tablets and phones can be used as remote controls to spin the motors of the robot at different speeds and directions.

"Coding has turned into a kid-targeted playground lately. Minecraft for education, Apple's Swift Playgrounds, and Sphero has its SPRK robot (say "spark"), which launched last year along with a Lightning Lab app full of crowd-shared projects and educational ideas," according to a news report published by CNET.

Sphero, of course, got its big break last year with its faithful reproduction of BB-8 from "The Force Awakens." But the "Star Wars" paint job and little magnetic head was really a small modification on a remote-controlled robot that dates back to 2011. I'd used those Sphero products for years, but had never tried SPRK or Lightning Lab. Now, however, Sphero has a new version of its educational robot and app, and it seemed like a good time to hop aboard.

Sphero has LED lights and inductive charging, and its motors can make it spin at various speeds and directions, using Android, iOS or Amazon Fire tablets and phones to remote-control it. Sphero makes a number of accessories that snap onto this or other, older Sphero models. A snap-on chariot accessory, for instance, has a Lego-friendly top to build on. My son used it to add a bunch of minifigures.

According to a report in The Verge by Ben Popper, "A little less than a year ago, Sphero released the first edition of its Spark robot, a rolling ball you can control with a mobile app. Since then, the product has been adopted as a tool for teaching kids about robotics and computer programming in over 1,000 schools across the US and Canada. Today it's announcing the second edition, the Sphero Spark+, which has a tougher, scratch-resistant skin. It also has a more advanced version of Bluetooth, meant to make it easier to pair the bots with multiple devices in a classroom setting."

Aside from these two changes, the new Spark unit is basically identical to its predecessor in size, price, battery life, and capability. It works with the Lightning Lab app, which is meant to teach coding through play. Like Apple's new Swift Playgrounds and the recently released mobile app from Hopscotch, the Lightning Lab lets users program sequences of action with drag-and-drop commands. Kids who want to learn more can peek under the hood at the actual code.

I spent an afternoon playing with the Spark+ and came away impressed. At $129 it's incredibly durable, simple to control, and even water-resistant. As the father of two boys under the age of four, I can tell you that holding their attention is much easier when they have some kind of tactile play to focus on. The video above, of a third grade class that programmed Spheros to approximate the orbit of planets in our Solar System, exemplifies the kinds of hands-on learning that is possible with programmable hardware.

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