Sphero's Bolt adds a matrix screen to the popular robot ball

Tania González  CNET

Tania González CNET

Today, Sphero announced the BOLT, a round robot that immediately brings to mind images of the SPRK and the original Sphero for those who remember the company's roots.

But Gallop's highlight will be its gift: an 8×8 multicolor LED matrix that animates in real time.

Bolt is now also fitted with a light sensor, able to sense various levels of ambient brightness - you could program your Sphero to spin faster, depending on how bright the ambient light is, for instance - and there's also an infrared transmitter and receiver, which Sphero says will eventually enable multiple Sphero bots to communicate with each other, allowing users to play around what it calls "swarm robotics". Sphero Edu supports coding through drawing on the screen or through Scratch Blocks, but for users who are a little further along in the learning process, they can also code through JavaScript. This looks pretty similar to the Sphero SPRK+ from 2016: it's a roughly tennis ball-sized sphere, weighted so that it stays upright while rolling about, and made out of transparent plastic so that you can see all the tech-y innards at a glance. It also works with the Sphero Play iOS and Android app, which offers fun driving modes and games.

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We have no idea whether these will be available in South Africa soon, but they will retail for $130 (R2,000 approx) on Sphero's website. Like previous Sphero products, the Bolt is water resistant and reasonably robust, so it can take a fair bit of abuse as it veers around the floor. What we might not realise is that they could be coming in the shape of little robotic balls. With the new inputs and outputs, now you can make anything. Within the intervening months, the firm collaborated with Disney on licensed products adore Closing Lightning McQueen, R2D2, BB-9E, and Spider-Man, and debuted a more reasonably priced, smaller Sprk+ partner - Sphero Mini - focused much less on education and more on video games and actions. It has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that promises to offer more than two hours of juice per 6-hour charge. As well as new features, you'll find a gyroscope, accelerometer and compass plus a pair of multicolour LEDs front and aft you can control, in addition to the robot's motors. Though the Sphero Edu app is targeted at schools, it can also be used by parents and children in home settings. Sphero is shifting from cute toys that weren't selling well to education, where its machines are proving useful.

Coupled with the new features, the Sphero Bolt is a brilliant way of mixing learning and play. Cozmo can be more easily enjoyed as a traditional toy as well as offering coding instruction, but lacks the durability and deeper coding options of the Bolt.

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