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Sphero’s new rolling robot can swim, paint, and teach kids to code

Sphero’s new rolling robot can swim, paint, and teach kids to code


The new unit builds on the educational platform Sphero launched last year

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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.

There is nothing revolutionary about the latest edition of the Sphero, but between its normal, educational, outdoor, and Star Wars-branded editions — which have been a huge seller — the robot maker is enjoying a sudden, multifaceted renaissance.