Orbotix makes sparks with educational robotics

If science fiction is anything to go by, there will be a time when robots will be a normal every day part of our lives. While we hope it won’t be in the form of Judgement Day, you can now get your kids in on the robotics fun with a new program aimed at helping the little ones learn.

Called “SPRK” (pronounced as “spark”) and roughly translating to “schools/parents/robots/kids,” the Orbotix edutainment program is about getting kids to understand the basics behind programming, with a bit of maths and robotics thrown in for good measure.

“In ten years, if a child points back to Sphero as their inspiration to becoming an engineer, we’ve done our job,” said Adam Wilson, one of the founders of Orbotix.

“You can’t put a price on that,” he said.

Orbotix was originally started by Wilson along with the other founder, Ian Bernstein, with the two of them coming together to make it possible to control objects with their smartphone.

“When we started, our original idea was to control real physical things with our smartphone,” said Bernstein to GadgetGuy last year during a visit to Australia.

“We prototyped tons of different things: door locks, tanks, lights, helicopters, all sorts of things. We like the ball for a couple of different reasons: the ball is a blank canvas for us.”

More than a blank canvas for engineers, a ball is also a starting point for kids, and thanks to some educational programs developed for kids and made available in both PDF and DOC files (compressed inside a ZIP file), anyone can learn what makes the Sphero tick, and how to actually engage with the gadget and make it do things you want to do.

Once some of the information has been read, kids can download iOS or Android apps to their respective devices, and if they have a Sphero, they can even put their newfound programming skills into action, making the Sphero spherical robot dance and shake its spherical groove things.

The lessons are already online, waiting for people to download them, but schools are beginning to embrace the tiny remote control robot, too, with just over 50 schools internationally connecting with the technology and making it possible for students to start inspiring engineering skills from an early age.

“When you incorporate tech tools that inspire, challenge, and provoke deep thinking, you empower learning,” said Robin Hosemann, an American teacher working at Wisconsin’s Prairie View Elementary School.

“Students must apply math concepts when they interact with Sphero and even if they find math challenging, they are now engaged and seek to solve problems,” added Hosemann. “That’s powerful.”

In Australia, we haven’t heard of any local schools jumping on-board, but kids keen to learn something about basic robotics and programming can grab the lessons now, reading up on how to do various things and putting the skills into action with one of the $180 Sphero robots later on, possibly annoying your dog with an animated ball that constantly evades his or her attempts to stop it from moving.

Because learning should be fun.