While it has become best known for its association with Star Wars and with The Force Awakens’ adorable BB-8 character, since 2014 Sphero has produced a special education-focused version of its signature robot toy called SPRK.
Today, the company unveiled a new and improved version of the SPRK called SPRK+.
At first glance, SPRK+ looks identical to the original SPRK. Like its predecessor, the new toy is made of transparent plastic, exposing its inner workings to the curious, and features a number of advance sensors, including a gyroscope and accelerometer.
Where it differs from the original SPRK is in the inclusion of Bluetooth Smart technology, a feature that will help large classrooms to get multiple SPRK+ toys paired with the proper iOS or Android devices faster. The new model is also more durable than its predecessor thanks to an added UV coating along its surface that protects against scratches and fading.
More notable are the improvements to the included Lightning Lab app. Similar to the MIT-developed Scratch platform, Lightning Lab uses a blocks-based interface to teach coding basics to children (and adults).
With version 2.0, Sphero has made it easier to start using the app to full effect with the addition integrated activities; previously parents and teachers had to visit the Sphero website to access these activities. There a number of these activities, including one that allows the user to program the Sphero to navigate a maze, that showcase what’s possible with an advance robot and just a few lines of code.
When they’ve mastered the included activities, users can find new tasks to tackle via Lightning Lab’s new community section, which also allows them to like, share and comment on any number of uploaded activities. Last but not least, a new visual framework helps parents and teachers easily track a child’s progress, letting them know if a child needs help or if they need something more challenging.
With 1 million more programming-related jobs than students in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, there’s a clear niche for the SPRK+, particularly in Canada. Some $4 billion dollars is budgeted towards expanding K-12 computer science programs across the country, with both British Columbia and Nova Scotia set to add mandatory computer coding classes to their school curricula this year.
Canadians can purchase SPRK+ on the Sphero website, Best Buy and Indigo for $149.99 starting today.