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Hands on ... Orbotix Sphero 2.0

Remote control cars are so last century.

Even helicopters, planes and flying UFOs seem old hat. Hoping to introduce something new to the remote control toy market, Colorado-based Orbotix has launched Sphero 2.0 - a robotic ball that's about the size of an orange.

Controlled by a smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth, Sphero moves around the floor at a frantic pace, covering up to seven feet per second in whichever direction the player tilts their phone. It is dustproof, waterproof and has no replaceable batteries, charging through induction from the included, mains-powered base.

Being spherical, the gadget has no natural front or back, so must be orientated before each use. The method varies between apps, but typically requires the player to spin Sphero until a blue light inside the shell is facing them. This works well except that when Sphero collides with almost anything it spins out of alignment, making control erratic until it is manually reoriented again.

One of the big selling points of Sphero 2.0 is the open software development kit (SDK) that allows owners to create their own apps. The main SDK is squarely aimed at experienced programmers, but there's a simpler OrbBasic app for smartphones that allows simple control of Sphero using 1980s-style Basic programming.

More than 20 smartphone apps have been published for Sphero, many of them free, giving the ball various control methods and abilities. These range from augmented reality apps that place Sphero within a virtual 3D world to simple navigation apps in which Sphero follows the route drawn on screen.

One of the most interesting apps is an arcade-style game called Chromo. In this game, Sphero becomes a handheld controller that is waved in the air to follow coloured patterns shown on the smartphone screen. While this held huge promise, it proved to be one of the most frustrating apps, highlighting Sphero's inherent inaccuracy compared to other wireless controllers like Microsoft's Kinect or Nintendo's Wii.

Pet owners may get a kick out of Sphero. Cats seem to enjoy chasing it and it provides more interactive play than a tennis ball. One thing to be mindful of, though, is that Sphero is a heavy beast and at full speed could give moggy - or a small child - a bit of a thump.

Practical jokers may also find some mileage in the gadget. One YouTube video shows how to hide Sphero in an Easter egg, bringing the egg to life as the recipient goes to take it out of the box.

If it sounds like I'm struggling to think of more fun or practical applications for Sphero, that's because I am. Without pets to entertain, it's difficult to imagine what to do with Sphero once the initial novelty has worn off.

Orbotix Sphero 2.0 (£99.99)

Positives: Robust, cleverly constructed toy.

Negatives: Novelty wears off quickly.

grant.gibson@heraldandtimes.co.uk

Twitter: @grant_gibson

Contextual targeting label: 
Consumer electronics

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