Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

Sphero’s new SPRK+ robotic orb features improved Bluetooth and a more robust shell

sphero sprk educational robot de9c85f64115f33dfb7c7f5b79e55
Image used with permission by copyright holder
The Sphero SPRK, the orbicular glowing robot that jumps and spins on command, is a nifty little thing. Pair it to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, then download the companion software, and a few simple taps will have you revving its motors and cycling its multicolor LEDs through a rainbow of patterns.

It’s far from perfect, though: the remote-controlled orb can’t pair to multiple devices, for instance, and sports a polycarbonate shell that’s prone to nicks and cracks. But Sphero is rectifying those and other issues with a new model, the Sphero SPRK+, which is due out in the coming weeks.

The Sphero SPRK+ is more a refinement than a redesign. The new sphere is focused specifically on tech education — that is to say, teaching kids and teens to code — and to that end packs an updated version of Bluetooth that supports pairing with multiple devices (think a classroom environment). It’s also got a scratch-resistant translucent skin that should be less susceptible to any bruises budding programmers might inflict than its predecessor was. But the hardware is otherwise identical to the first-generation Spark, which is largely a good thing: it’s compatible with the wall charger of the last-generation Sphero SPRK and accessories made for older Sphero devices, a well as the more than 25 third-party apps on Android and iOS that support it.

The Sphero SPRK+ also works with Sphero’s long-in-development learning tool Lighning Lab. It’s an app that lets beginning users automate the bot with OVAL, a visual program language that involves dragging and dropping commands around a timeline. OVAL is designed specifically to accommodate developers of all skill levels. Newbies can quickly whip up a routine that’ll have the SPRK+ traveling between two points and changing colors, while advanced programmers can use code to tap into Sphero’s gyroscope, motor, processor, and other hardware.

In an update shipping alongside the Spark+, the Lightning Lab is gaining sound effects that intrepid young developers can add to their programs, plus a news feed that’ll keep users abreast of upcoming enhancements. And it now highlights both Sphero-supplied and community-made activities — guided experiences that help teach the basics of the SPRK+. Some, like navigating through a virtual maze and completing a boat enclosure, are relatively straightforward, while others, like making art and simulating planetary motion, require a tad more forethought. And still others are designed to supplement science, technology, and math curriculum in K-12 classrooms.

The SPRK+ will retail for $130 when it hits store shelves later this year — the same price as its predecessor.

The SPRK has come a long way since 2011, when the spherical robot was derided by some as an “overpriced cat toy.” Spherolaunched the Ollie, an RC device “engineered for high performance” and speeds of up to 14 miles per hour, at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2014. The current-gen SPRK, meanwhile, is in use in 1,000 schools, and a Star Wars-themed variant, the BB-8, was recently released to blockbuster success: last year on launch day, the company sold more than 2,000 of the $150 models “every hour.”

Kyle Wiggers
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kyle Wiggers is a writer, Web designer, and podcaster with an acute interest in all things tech. When not reviewing gadgets…
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more