Robot toys come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s one robot that stands out from the rest – Sphero! Their robots have won over schools and homes alike with coding capabilities difficult to match. They prove to be invaluable tools in getting kids into coding and helping them get a handle on STEM skills early on. Now that the new Sphero Bolt robot is here, we can’t help but feel the surge of child-like happiness.
Five years have rolled by since the release of Sphero 2.0, in the meantime Sphero has focused themselves with a variety of other cool products linked with Star Wars and Pixar. But finally comes back to the original formula that we all know and love.
Sphero Bolt packs way more sensors, has a nifty new matrix screen, IR infrared connection to other Bolts, and takes coding up a few notches. Was it worth the long wait and how does it fare today against predecessors and competition alike? Let’s dig in.
What makes BOLT different?
Let’s first get one thing straight before we break Bolt down.
- It packs significantly more features than any Sphero ball on the market.
- It’s fun to play with and there is a set of intuitive games kids will adore.
- Bolt is a more sophisticated ball than ever before!
Having said that, Sphero Bolt is primarily a learning toy and it’s here where Bolt truly shines. All the features we are about to describe are finely tuned to turn Bolt into a definitive school or home code educational tool. It looks to us like Sphero are out to become the classroom leaders, with the next generation of STEM educational robots.
Designed with Classrooms in Mind
Not much has changed in the looks department. It’s as transparent as SPRK+ and it’s the same size as both 2.0 and SPRK+. Sphero Bolt looks and feels like previous iterations, with one small but significant addition – the programmable LED matrix screen. Use different coding options to control multiple colors on the LED screen, making this a significant improvement in terms of coding compared to the SPRK editions. Every one of the myriad sensors are visible and all commands readable in real time.
Transparent and Hardy
Bolt is sturdy, too! The notable hardiness is especially significant for classroom use. Though the transparent casing might suggest otherwise, throwing Bolt around will hardly scratch it (this doesn’t mean you should do it though). It just means that Bolt will last for generations of inquisitive and playful children. Still, to get the most life and traction out of Sphero, these Hexnub Bolt covers offer phenomenal grip and protection against both elements and rough surfaces. Couple it with the covers, Hexnub Explorer Bag for safe carrying, and Sphero Bolt robot will last a lifetime. The new Sphero is also waterproof, not at all insignificant for classroom.
Sensors and Stuff – LED Programmable Matrix
Sphero Bolt robot packs many of the same features we enjoyed with 2.0 or SPRK+ and some. There’s the gyroscope, accelerometer, locomotion motors, but what truly sets Bolt apart is the new LED matrix display.
Now, this programmable display really adds a layer of complexity that previous Sphero balls may have lacked. With light sensors built in, 8×8 pixel LED matrix grid lets children program animations, texts, smiley faces, or whatever they can imagine. The new LED screen strikes the balance between being too simplistic and overwhelming. Hence 8×8 pixels, but infinite coding possibility. The ‘Fade between frames’ feature will make the animation transitions look smooth and input combos even more enjoyable.
New Sphero Sensors
Aside from the LED matrix display, we’ll mention two sensors that stand out to us, before turning to software. The first is the light sensor, and the other IR Infrared sensor.
The light sensor makes Bolt react to surrounding light levels. Kids can program it to react to light sensory input. Coupled with the display, this allows for all kinds of gimmicky options to explore. One particular codable action might be to make the LED matrix go color crazy when light goes beyond a certain level or make faces if you throw light at it. No limits here, really.
Not to forget the other IR Infrared sensor. The sensor is based on a response trigger, which is where the Bolt robot is at its most sociable. Thus, making him particularly useful for classrooms, students can connect on the Bolt level and act out different scenarios together.
Bolts can communicate, swarm, follow one another, or even act out a scripted story – with characters too. Bolts signal a completed action and trigger one another to respond accordingly. LED matrix grid is great stuff no doubt, but for us this is the true game-changer in terms of uncapping the coding potential with Sphero Bolt.
How you can play
Hardware’s all nice and neat, but how does it play out where it really matters?… Pretty good actually. Bolt is perhaps the best-rounded of the Sphero editions yet. Taking it from the start there are three ways to enjoy Sphero Bolt robot:
- Kids can use it as a remote-controlled toy Via smartphones: roll it around house, classroom, or driveway. There’s also a neat addition to how they can control it. The ‘Scream drive’ feature allows them to shout and increase Bolt speed. Voice programming at its crudest, isn’t it?
- They can use it as game controller too, with loads of arcade games – making the most out of the unique design. Children can control it in ‘real world’ to affect the game being played on screen. This is an impressively intuitive way of playing with Bolt, albeit not all that adventurous.
- Finally, children can use Sphero Bolt robot to learn coding and brush up on STEM skills for the future. Looks like a toy, acts like one, but Sphero is at its best as a learning tool. This is where Bolt really shines and where we’ll go more in depth in the following passages.
The Nooks and Crannies of Sphero EDU App
Bolt comes with two different apps at its disposal, the Play app is the less techy of the two. It serves for first two bullet points on the list above. Play app is a fantastic intro and a great support for those using Sphero Bolt as a glorified toy. Edu app on the other hand, is where things start getting educational.
With Bolt version however, the Edu app reaches new heights. Every feature or sensor we highlighted is programmable through the app. Remember the LED Matrix grid a couple of passages above? Well, kids can code it to make a scary face and make Bolt wander off into the dark, for instance. Or make it flash red upon hitting another object or Sphero Bolt robot. It really lets the imagination go off in refining future coding attempts.
Getting Better with Time
If the plethora of features seems a little too much to learn the ropes, don’t feel discouraged. Sphero packs a good deal of activities to help kids through the learning process. Some look more like hand-holding, the other are a little more advanced, but they always end up rewarding for the effort put into them.
Not for the Unknowing
Teachers will appreciate the side-by-side instructions, but bear in mind that Sphero doesn’t really go lengths to initiate the unknowing into the world of programming. It presupposes a child who already has some coding knowledge. We’d say that kids 7-12 might be the perfect age group for Sphero Bolt toy.
Very good for home play, it’s clearly the schools that Sphero Bolt is most likely to succeed in. The classroom pack comes with 15 units all ready to play. And yes, the IR sensor interactivity between Bolts is the highlight feature for classrooms.
The company has learned much in their fruitful foray with Disney and applied the new knowledge to the new Sphero robot. More sensors, new LED matrix screen, and much improved Edu app experience, Sphero Bolt robot is the comeback kid we were hoping for and an excellent coding tool for children to learn with.
Want to find out more about Sphero? – Meet the Robotic Toys that got Sphero Rolling into Classrooms
Since the release of the Sphero Bolt you can now find huge discounts on older models, such as the 2.0, SPRK, SPRK+ and even the Sphero Mini. Click the button below to check prices on Amazon.