Orbotix Rolls Out Next-Gen Sphero, Considers Possible New Directions

8/14/13Follow @MichaelXBD

The ball, reinvented, has itself been reinvented—and that means changes could be on the horizon for Orbotix, the Boulder, CO, startup that took the ball and put a robot inside it.

Orbotix this morning launched Sphero 2.0, the next generation of the Sphero robotic ball that’s controlled by iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Sphero is completely self-propelled, and users can drive it through obstacle courses, play augmented reality games, or program it to do tricks or travel in patterns.

The new Sphero features improved hardware and firmware, and Orbotix has given a major facelift to the interface for the app that drives Sphero, according to Orbotix co-founder and chief software architect Adam Wilson.

The hardware improvements are in addition to the strides Orbotix made over the past year in developing augmented reality games for Sphero. Its two mobile games in that category, Sharky the Beaver and The Rolling Dead, blend Sphero’s ability to navigate in the real world with games and characters in the digital world.

About three years have passed since Orbotix began working on Sphero, and the company realized it had greater potential.

The original Sphero “was really great, but we thought there could be more,” Wilson said.

But now with the rollout of Sphero 2.0, Orbotix might have pushed Sphero as far as it can go, according to Wilson.

“It’s kind of our finale with Sphero,” he said.

Faster and Smarter

What new spheres (so to speak) might the company investigate next? Before addressing that and how Orbotix reached this point, a bit more about the new product.

The new Sphero will be about twice as fast as its predecessor, clocking in at seven feet per second. It can distinguish the type of surface it’s on, so it can keep a consistent speed when it rolls from thick carpeting to a hardwood floor, for example.

The LED lights inside the new Sphero also are brighter, and it comes with ramps for jumps. Users also can buy accessories, like a “nubby cover” that improves traction.

For the launch, Orbotix has created a promotional video that’s almost as amped up as the trailer for a Hollywood movie.

Orbotix also has made Sphero smarter—or at least smart enough to teach new users and challenge power users. In its out-of-the-box state, some of Sphero’s capabilities, like the ability to drive at full speed, are locked down. As new users master the ball—in other words, stop crashing into walls and furniture—those restrictions will be lifted.

“As you play with Sphero, you level it up,” Wilson said. “The hope is it progressively will teach you a lot of the other tricks.” Sphero’s sophisticated enough that the most advanced users would be able to do what Wilson likened to the ollies and flip tricks performed by skateboarders.

The apps that control Sphero also have been upgraded, with an emphasis on making … Next Page »

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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