SxSW Startup Spotlight Demo: Sphero the iPhone Controlled Ball

Sometimes we run across a toy that brings out the wonder of being a kid and sparks our imagination; when we do, it’s a fantastic feeling. Usually, I associate this feeling with the products produced by Disney’s Imagineers (i.e. Space Mountain, Epcot, etc.). However, I was very fortunate to have such an experience while attending the Startup Spotlight event at SXSWi. Please allow me to introduce you to Sphero– about the size and weight of a baseball-  an exciting remote-controlled ball that the creators, Orbotix, describe as “Part ball. Part robot. All fun.”

How Does it Work?

Sphero is controlled from a variety of available applications for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod) or Android devices that allow you to do app-specific things such as drive it around your favorite cat or dog while filming their hilarious reactions, draw shapes and then watch Sphero follow the path on the ground, or even play physical-digital golf. It is truly marvelous to play with this awesome little ball, from changing his color to whatever color you can imagine with the series of LEDs embedded in him, to making him whiz around the floor tracing your elaborate drawing, the guys over at Orbotix have truly produced a magical experience.

Is it Just a Novelty?

While a number of reviews have written Sphero off as an over-expensive ($129USD) novelty, after playing with Sphero and meeting and talking with the brilliant team behind it at SXSWi, I believe the nay-sayers are very much mistaken. Sphero is an astounding piece of hardware; it comes with full bluetooth connectivity and internally houses both a gyroscope and a accelerometer. The amazing thing about this combination of hardware is the incredible and detailed amount of data and feedback that Sphero is able transmit.

Where the critics are getting hung-up is on its limited software abilities right now. There are only about 5 apps available to use with Sphero, but this is where it gets awesome: The Sphero team has just released version 2 of their software development kit (SDK). What does that mean in english? It means that anyone can access that awesome amount of data and write iOS and android apps to interface with this new little robot. Already, the team has seen people write apps using the ball to control synthesizers while making music and as a remote control for iPad games. The possibilities here are endless.

Sphero is an awesome leap in exploring the boundaries between the physical and digital space, they have a passionate team working to continue pushing what’s possible. I can’t wait to see what they release next.

The Ball. Evolved. from Sphero on Vimeo.

Isaac Budmen

Comfortable foot attire enthusiast -- more to read at

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  • Dan

    Well fortunately, I was a Disney Imagineer! There is no lack of respect for childish wonder here at Orbotix.

    – Dan Danknick, Sphero firmware engineer

  • ibudmen

    I’d love to say “what a coencendense”, but you guys have done such a terrific job delighting people with Sphero I shouldn’t be surprised there is someone with a background in making magic happen. Really fantastic job!