Sphero RVR Set to Be the Most Versatile Coding Robot Ever!

Recently the team at Sphero launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign for their new product the RVR (pronounced Rover). This campaign secured over $1,00,000, and the RVR is set to be the biggest robot of the year. As with many Sphero products, the RVR has an emphasis on education, as well as fun. Yet RVR is set to break all of the existing boundaries, as a robot specifically designed for customization. With a UART expansion port, this Sphero robot can team up with Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and micro:bit, to give students and makers an accessible, expandable robot, with full compatibility. So what can this robot bring to the classroom? And will it be a good investment? Well, here at Hexnub, we’ve been following this bot, and this is what we know so far.

What is Sphero RVR?

So what exactly is the Sphero RVR? Well, for this product, Sphero have moved away from the spherical products that have defined them so far, and have instead created a larger robot with a powerful motor, and all terrain tracks. But, Sphero have stuck to form. The RVR is packed full of sensors, and drivable and programmable right out of the box. Compatible with the Sphero Edu app, the RVR is a powerful robot, by itself. But it also offers the UART expansion port.

What is the UART expansion port?

This is part of the RVR that allows other 3rd party pieces of hardware to be connected. Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and micro:bit are all compatible. This means you can add sensors and motors to the RVR, using whichever programming language you prefer. Turning this fun, powerful robot, into whatever you need. From adding cameras for home security, to a robotic arm that will clean up after you, the possibilities are endless.

And the RVR also comes with a removable, rechargeable battery that is capable of powering both the RVR, and any third-party hardware attached. So you can keep tinkering, without running out of juice.

What kind of sensors does RVR have?

Sphero bots have always been packed with sensors. So does the RVR uphold this tradition? Well, actually it does. The RVR shares a range of sensors with its predecessors, including a:

  •  magnetometer
  •  accelerometer
  •  and a gyroscope

RVR also shares some sensors with the Sphero BOLT, including:

  •  light sensors
  •  IR (infrared receivers)

And finally, the Sphero RVR also boasts a colour sensor. This may be connected with another product Sphero have recently released earlier this year (2019), the Specdrums, which detects colour to play music. The addition of the colour sensor means that the RVR can drive over different coloured terrains, and be programmed to respond differently, depending on the colour.

How does Sphero RVR compare to Sphero BOLT?

Sphero BOLT is the most recent product released by Sphero (to date) and has been successful, especially with schools and educators. So how will the RVR compare to the BOLT, and does it have to be a competition? Well, the simple answer is no. In fact, these two robots are capable of using the IR sensors to send messages to one another. So you could program your BOLT to work alongside the RVR, or even consider SWARM robotics. This offers a whole new angle for education professionals, and for students and makers to explore.

In direct comparison, the Sphero BOLT is smaller, and lighter, so potentially more portable. However the RVR is specifically designed to tackle all terrains, and to follow the same heading, despite any uneven terrain. Unfortunately, this is beyond Sphero BOLT. So if you’re heading to the beach, the woods or even the park, RVR might be a better choice.

Sphero BOLT also offers the fully programmable LED matrix, which is perfect for creating games and graphics. While the RVR does not offer this directly, it will be easy to add this to the UART expansion port yourself.

In addition, Sphero BOLT is fully waterproof. And while the RVR is water resistant, it’s not fully waterproof. So you can’t use it to program any swimming activities.

The main advantage of the RVR is of course the opportunity for customization.

Sphero RVR customization

The Sphero RVR is a robot that is designed specifically to be customized. From 3D printing new treads, terrains and toppers, to plugging in whole new pieces of hardware, the Sphero RVR is the first robot designed for the purpose of hacking. Customization for the RVR therefore is not just about personality and appearance, but dramatically transforming the usefulness and practicalities of this robotic product.

Sphero RVR is the first robot to be fully programmable, and drivable straight out of the box, while also offering such a big opportunity for cross platform compatibility. So whether you write in Python or C/C++, use Arduino or Raspberry Pi, or even switch between them like we do, you can simply connect, and begin.

The Sphero Edu app will be used to run code on the RVR, controlling the base of your project and the movement, while the 3rd Party Hardware will take care of controlling any sensors or additions you connect. And the RVR battery is powerful enough to support it all, whatever you create.

The opportunities for this customization and expansion are numerous. Here are just some examples of what we have seen from Sphero themselves so far:

  •  A cleaning robot- by connecting a robotic arm to the RVR, the robot can be used for picking up real world objects and moving them around. Like taking your empty drink cans to the trash.
  •  A weather-station- by 3D printing a wind speed tool (anemometer) and connecting this to 3rd party hardware, you can measure the wind-speed in all different locations, across different terrain.
  •  A mobile Nerf launcher- take your Nerf gun fights to the next level with a mobile Nerf launcher. You can fire foam darts using the RVR and some 3D printed components.
  • A home security robot- turn RVR into a home security robot with a camera capable of sending video footage to your device. Not only will you know when someone enters, but you can check in on the pets whenever you feel like too.

What can Sphero RVR bring to the classroom?

With such an emphasis on customization and expansion, the RVR could be every educators dream.

With an RVR, children from the age of 5 can begin to learn the basics of programming, using the Sphero Edu app, as they already do with other Sphero projects and robots. And as they move through education, onto more complex tasks, the RVR has the opportunity to share this growth too.

The Sphero EDU app offers a range of programming opportunities.

Sphero Edu’s block based programming is a great start, and there are a range of block programming options for Arduino, micro:bit and Raspberry Pi too. So students don’t have to wait until they have mastered a text based programming language, before they start hacking and tinkering with the kit, combining platforms and tech in a way that is not yet possible.

For older or more advanced students, the Sphero Edu app offers text based programming in the form of JavaScript. And this is shared with micro:bit. But other platforms use different languages, with Arduino being similar, and python quite different. This means then that the RVR can support students well into college and university, teaching more in depth and complex programming, alongside multiple programming languages.

Sphero RVR also offers a removable, rechargeable battery. So if your last class has drained the power, you can simply switch out the battery and recharge the empty ones. This means that you can run back to back classes, using the RVR, which is something that is very difficult to achieve with any existing Sphero product.

Sphero RVR and Hexnub

In preparation for the release of Sphero RVR later this year, here at Hexnub we are developing all sorts of fun and practical additions for the RVR.

We’re also planning to offer free, downloadable CAD files for home 3D printing. This means that you can customize your robot for free, from the comfort of your own home. Join our mailing list to stay up to date with developments.

The possibilities for customizing RVR, and for programming, are literally endless. Let us know what you wold like to add or do with the RVR in the comments below.