Sphero Bolt+ Gives the STEM-Focused Robot Ball a Better, More Useful Screen

We’re no strangers to Sphero. They made one of the most popular toys of the last ten years with the Sphero BB-8, after all, which is also one of our favorites. While they’ve since ended their partnership with Disney, the outfit has continued to produce their STEM-focused Bolt line of robot balls. The Sphero Bolt+ is the newest addition to that lineup.

To the unfamiliar, the Bolt is a programmable robot ball that can be controlled and programmed using a smartphone app, which has made it a popular STEM toy for teaching kids about basic programming concepts. Since it’s a ball, it can, basically, be controlled to either roll or spin, although it also has a multi-color LED matrix that it can use to display messages for more tangible user feedback.

The Sphero Bolt+ swaps out that LED matrix in favor of a color LCD panel. Yes, it’s still a small screen with just a 128 x 128 resolution, although that should be enough to offer better visual feedback, making it a lot more useful than its predecessors. Aside from text and numbers, the display can be used to show over 650 preset graphics and playful animations. If you’re using it to program, the screen can also show real-time sensor data, which should be plenty helpful when troubleshooting any issues with the code.

Programming the ball can be done through the companion Sphero Edu app (iOS, Android, Chrome, PC, Mac, and Kindle), which lets you use JavaScript, Blocks, or Draw to interface with the toy. According to the outfit, this new version allows you to program the ball’s rolling distance, enable manual driving in the middle of a program’s execution, and even customize reactions to the software buttons, all of which weren’t available in the robot’s previous iterations.

The Sphero Bolt+ measures 2.87 inches in diameter, so it’s a perfectly round ball that can roll around in any programmed path. The shell is made from a transparent polycarbonate that, the outfit claims, is very durable, so you should be able to set it loose on most any kind of surface without worrying about damaging it. It’s water-resistant, too, with the outfit claiming you can let it ford a river without any worries, so you can have it roll through puddles and run through wet paint without damaging the electronics.

Sphero offers a wide selection of free, downloadable guides and lessons that you can use to push the robot’s capabilities, making it an excellent educational tool, since you won’t have to make up activities for your kids to do using the toy (they have it all pre-made). The lessons are supposedly cross-curricular and standard-aligned, as well, making them useful even in school settings for teachers who want to use it as an educational tool. According to the outfit, a single Bolt+ supports up to two kids working together in a pair programming and collaborative learning setup.

The Sphero Bolt+ is slated to come out in August later in the year. Price is $199. It’s available for preorder now.

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