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Sphero, from Orbotix, may be the missing link between gaming and digital imaging. This agile robotic ball, made of a tough polycarbonate, serves as the centerpiece for an endless array of gaming and imaging possibilities. From augmented reality and tabletop gameplay to party tricks and elementary programming, the Sphero (MSRP $130) seems to have a lot of potential—if not across its 20+ apps, then among third-party developers with a knack for ingenuity. However, as novel as the Sphero may sound, we can’t help but feel the need for further innovation, especially if it wants to remain relevant going forward.
Consider some of the apps that are already available for the Sphero: There’s a driving program that’s simply used for rolling the ball around on the floor (like a remote control car), with the probable effect of irritating roommates and family members and terrorizing cats. There’s the nifty SpheroCam, which uses the ball’s built-in camera for remote video recording and photography. There’s Nyan Cat SpaceParty, which is just a rad, meme-tastic game a la space invaders, only controlled via the Sphero itself. There are also synthesizer programs, DJ controls, lighting mechanisms, and a bunch of other cool apps—all available on iOS 4.0+ and Android 2.2+.
But it’s the built-in camera that we found most interesting—not because of its current rudimentary use as a sort of spy app, but because of its potential. Since Sphero is open to third-party development, there’s a wide range of possibilities for a remote controlled, rolling cam-within-a-plastic-ball. Right? There must be. Then again, there’s only so much a plastic, rolling ball can do to entertain; it’s possible this thing just ends up as a clever party trick.
We had an opportunity to play around with the Sphero at CES Unveiled on Sunday night and we came away impressed, albeit curious as to its future. The idea of using the camera on your iPad or Android device for augmented reality gaming, imaging, and development is certainly cool, but even over the course of 20 minutes we began to lose interest.
If the Sphero is going to take off, developers will have to get real creative with their app-making. Otherwise, it’ll join the Virtual Boy and Nokia N-Gage in the category of nostalgic failures. Here’s hoping for continued innovation!
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