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You’re probably familiar with Sphero’s family of spherical, programmable robots. Some are fun, some educational, and the Sphero Bolt is both, it is designed to teach kids science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). This is the third in the line of Sphero spherical programmable robots.
It’s a tough, waterproof and transparent three-inch rolling robot that’s designed to teach children(and grown-ups) how to code using the accompanying mobile app, but you also can use it as a toy to terrorize parents and pets.
Its price is about on a par with other educational robots. The Sphero Bolt is currently slightly less expensive than its closest rival, Anki’s Cozmo(a less flexible but more toy-like option) and much more affordable than the Anki Vector(which is part toy, and part robot) and the Mattel’s Alpha Training Blue from the Jurassic World Movie. The cost also becomes more palatable if several Sphero Bolts are bought as an investment for a whole class of school children.
The design of the Sphero Bolt is almost identical to the previous robots from Sphero. It includes many of the same core components as the previous Sphero Balls. What’s changed in this version is there are now a few extra components that give the ball more features and capabilities.
What sets the Sphero Bolt apart from all other Sphero toys is the IR(Infra Red) sensors(so it can work with other Bolts), bigger battery, programmable LED’s that can be seen through the clear casing, and faster charging times.
You can see what’s inside
Not only is the Sphero Bolt see-through, but the design team labeled all the tech inside to a really amazing degree. It is the type of attention to detail that makes the Sphero Bolt popular among parents, kids, and adults alike.
At first glance owner of the previous Sphero toys will notice something different in this new model. Most notably, the center mast formerly used for steering is gone. This allowed for the company to include a much larger battery and let the company reorder some other components to make space for the new sensors.
A bigger battery means play time is longer than previous models. A charging cradle is included in the package. The downside is that a bigger battery needs longer to charge, so while playtime is twice that of previous Sphero, about 2 hours, so is the charge time.
The other big difference is the large 8×8 matrix of LEDs featured in the center of the ball, the first to be included in one of Sphero’s robotic balls. Facing outward on the four corners at the top of the ball, you will see four black sensors. These are infrared(IR) sensors. This gives the Sphero Bolt some very lightweight mapping capabilities and lets it react to objects in front of the device.
You still have an acceleration meter and gyroscope as well, along with the motor that can go up to 4.5 miles per hour. More importantly, Sphero has added a compass, giving it the ability to automatically orient itself when you pick it up and start driving. What you won’t find in the Sphero Bolt is an internal speaker(probably in an effort to keep the casing sealed, so you’ll have to rely on the companion app, Sphrero Edu which is available for free for IOS, Android, Amazon, PC, Mac, and Chrome), and the smartphone or tablet for sound.
Even with all the new technology jammed into the ball, Sphero kept the size of the product the same, roughly the size of a baseball. If you want something smaller, look towards the Sphero Mini, but it won’t be quite as advanced.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the polycarbonate outer layer is extremely durable. I had it rolls down a flight of stairs and even fall off a table. The Sphero Bolt is designed to take a beating, so maybe don’t drop it from the top of a skyscraper, but if it happens to take a big fall, you probably won’t see any damage.
Spotlight turns to coding
Even after launching successful products in partnership with Disney, such as the BB-8 and the Lightning McQueen, Sphero has remained focused on its original mission to create STEM and STEAM educational toys.
Having my 9 year old grandnephew play with the Sphero Bolt for a couple of weeks, I watched that he had a lot of fun. He spent a couple of weeks playing with the Sphero Edu app that lets you drive the Sphero Bolt and run programs. In just a few days of messing around, he learned quite a bit.
The Sphero Bolt is controlled via the Sphero Edu app, and there’s also a second app, Sphero Play for touch-based navigation and general messing around. Parents beware: there’s a Scream Drive setting in that one that makes the Sphero Bolt moves faster the louder your child screams or shouts at it. You also can use Swift Playgrounds, which offers two Sphero Playgrounds: Sphero Arcade and Sphero Template.
As you advance, Sphero Edu will let you see how the code translates from one language to another. In the beginner’s Draw mode, my grandnephew learned geometry by drawing different shapes and triangles and having the Sphero Bolt map out the shapes in front of me by driving around. It was a nice change of pace from your typical classroom geometry lesson.
Moving on to the Blocks programming mode, Sphero still keeps easy for the user. It’s essentially a drag and drop programming interface. However, the organization of each block category and the color representation make it intuitive.
For example, you can easily make the Sphero Bolt drive a short distance back and forth then repeat the process by dragging a loop block on the screen and attaching it to the end of your series of functions.
Another neat feature is that some blocks allow changing the LED Matrix with different images. My grandnephew’s favorite was making it display emojis. You can also customize the graphics on the LEDs for different games and activities.
Perhaps the best feature of all in the Sphero Edu app.is that you can download programs from other people who have created them(or upload your own to share with others). For now, you can download a few different programs like “Magic 8 Ball” and “Tic Tac Toe”, but the store will likely add many more in the near future.
Sphero Bolt auto-senses direction thanks to a compass
One of the biggest issues plaguing Sphero since the original model has been figuring out which direction is forward in the robotic ball. In years past, you had to rotate the ball using the app, and a blue light would appear on the ball, and the light would indicate which direction was forward essentially telling you where Sphero was about to go.
With Sphero Bolt, though, a compass is now on board, and it works in a similar way to the one included in the I-Phone and how it works with any mapping app.
The compass enables a feature called “auto aim” that automatically figures out which direction is forward. Our time spent using this feature was actually fantastic, and I’m very happy that Sphero is making the product more comfortable and easier to use for everyone. This is a huge addition to anyone who has played with the older variants.
The core Sphero experience doesn’t go away
At the end of the day, the Sphero Bolt is still a toy, and Sphero does a great job of making the Bolt easy to use and fun to play around with. Sphero has several games that are now available, including a bowling game you can play with household objects. But quite honestly, it’s fun to drive the ball around.
The Sphero Bolt goes a little slower than other models at just 4.5 miles per hour, but it’s still plenty of speed to go off ramps or play keep-away with your dog or cat. It’s super fun and in our experience, anyone that sees the ball being driven around will likely come up to you and ask you to give it a spin. At the end of the day, the Sphero Bolt is intuitive and a blast to use.
The Sphero Bolt lasts about 2 hours of full use thanks to its larger battery. It also gives you time to develop code, test it, and make adjustments without needing to take breaks for a charge in the middle. Sphero is still using wireless charging, but this larger battery is working in conjunction with a faster charger.
Bolt sets the course for the future.
I am thoroughly impressed with the Sphero Bolt. It beats out other connected robotic toys in its price range for the sheer fact that the company has a strong track record of pushing out software updates, has an innovative STEAM approach, and the fact that is a joy to use.
Inside the ball, the hardware, processors, motors, and sensors can really do a lot. The specs don’t matter so much here; it’s what you can do with it. The app unlocks the power of the Sphero Bolt through three innovative modes that teach you to code.
The Sphero Bolt is a great value. For the money, you get a fun little robot that might also inspire you to build something yourself with your new coding skills. For anyone looking for an educational toy, The Sphero Bolt is a no-brainer.
The Sphero Bolt is designed for ages 7 and up.
For a quick video overview of the Sphero Bolt click here