Do you recall my recent column I want robotic balls? Well, I now have one of my very own (“…my precious, my precious…”)
And how did this come to be? Well, soon after I had posted my original column I received an email from Tim Davis, who is the president of ASPEN LOGIC (www.AspenLogic.com). From their website I discovered that: “Aspen Logic delivers professional FPGA consulting, logic verification, implementation and design services for your favorite devices using VHDL or Verilog/SystemVerilog. We also offer inrevium evaluation and prototyping boards from Tokyo Electron Device Limited.”
The reason for Tim’s email was to inform me that he had just taken delivery of a gaggle of Sphero robotic balls; that he felt really guilty about having so many (5) as compared to my personal collection (0); and that he wanted to share the joy and make the world in general (and my world in particular) a happier place.
It seems that, quite some time ago, Tim had met the original engineers / inventors of Sphero at a Chips on Deck networking meeting. Tim subsequently followed these guys (on the Internet, not in a stalking capacity) and subscribed to their newsletter to keep in touch with what was happening. At some stage, Tim heard via the newsletter that Sphero’s were available for pre-order, so he ordered five of the little rascals (he’s obviously a man after my own heart). So Tim was one of the first to receive his Spheros and this happy event occurred just a couple of days before he came to read my column (I really am a lucky s…ausage).
As an aside, I’d never heard of Chips on Deck before (I didn’t mention this to Tim because I didn’t want him to think that I wasn’t on top of the situation). But I just had a quick Google and was guided to the corresponding LinkedIn Group, which says: “Chips on the Deck is a grassroots social networking organization intent on nurturing semiconductor (and related) startups and entrepreneurs all along the Front Range (CO). Its primary membership includes (current and former) CEO's, CTO's, a few VC's, and other founder-level people. (Invite only)”
I was quite surprised to see how many of the folks I know in this group. It’s sad to see that it’s "Invitation Only"… I’m pretty sure I know where that leaves me (grin). Of course, I can always take the old Groucho Marx position when he said: “I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member” (I wish I could come up with stuff like this).
But we digress… The next message from Tim, which was accompanied by the picture below, said: “I have one all boxed for you. The other ones are making a plaintive whining/crying sound. They want to know where their brother is going!”
Good grief! I'm such a softy. How can it be that this made me feel so sad (seriously)? It isn’t right that brothers should be separated in this way. The obvious solution is that Tim should have sent two (or more) of the little ragamuffins to me so that they could keep each other company (but I was too polite to suggest this [grin]).
Anyway, this little rascal just arrived and my first impression is … that it’s LOTS of fun. Quite apart from anything else, the Sphero comes will the following note:
I do like it when folks have a sense of humor. Of course, now they have me wondering whether they know that Danger, Will Robinson
(a catchphrase from the 1960s’ American television series Lost in Space
) should have a comma after the “Danger” and two ‘l’s in “Will”? I wouldn’t put it past the little scamps to include deliberate mistakes in order to get folks thinking and to spark communication…
As you may recall, you control the Sphero via WiFi using your Apple/Android Smartphone/Tablet. Thus, as soon as I had charged my Sphero (using the supplied inductive pedestal), I took it for a stroll around the building. I have to say that I am the envy of every engineer here (and they also like my Sphero :-)
Of course, being an engineer myself, there are lots of things I would change (or add). On the off-chance that the folks from GoSphero.com
see this article, here are a few thoughts off the top of my head:
I like the easy way provided to change the Sphero’s color (its internal LEDs) in the Draw-and-Drive app …. they should include something similar in the main/default Sphero app.
There is a Sleep Mode
in the main Sphero app that turns the internal LEDs off … but they stay off for only a few seconds and then come back on again. I would also like a Stealth Mode
that turns the LEDs off and leaves them off until I command the Sphero to move, at which time I would like them to blaze on as we start to roll. (The idea is to leave it sitting on the floor looking innocent like a regular ball, until someone bends down to pick it up and you scoot it away from their grasping fingers… it looks a bit more suspicious when it’s sitting there glowing.)
Generally speaking, apps on my iPad 2 automatically orientate themselves to the way in which I’m holding the tablet. As I turn the tablet the app switches between Landscape Mode
and Portrait Mode
. Now, I can understand that if you have an app that is best suited to Landscape Mode you don’t switch to Portrait Mode when you spin your iPad. The problem with the Sphero app is that it appears in Landscape Mode upside down on my screen as compared to the way I usually hold my iPad … and it won’t re-orientate itself, so I have to revolve my iPad. On the one hand this is a minor niggle – on the other hand it’s a bit wearing on the nerves.
Last but not least (for the moment), I have a slightly more sophisticated suggestion for the developers. Before I actually played with my Sphero, I had assumed that when you powered it up it would automatically determine its orientation with regard to the operator (I hadn’t really thought much about how this would work). In reality, when you launch the control app on your iPad, the first thing you do is to place two fingers on the screen and spin them clockwise or anticlockwise until the blue light inside the Sphero is pointing towards you. This is how it subsequently understands what you want it to do when you tell it to move “forward” or “left” or “right”.
The problem occurs when you go wandering round a large building. Let’s say you come to a left turn in a corridor, for example. When you turn left yourself, your iPad has rotated 90 degrees from its original position. If you aren’t careful, this means that whenever you issue a command to the Sphero like “forward” it will actually move 90 degrees off-course. So you either have to compensate for this yourself, or you have to rotate the iPad around in your hands.
A better option would be to add a control mode (I personally would have this as the default) such that as you turn around – and therefore rotate the iPad – the app automatically adjusts / compensates for this (the iPad does have an inbuilt magnetic compass capability, so the app can access the iPad’s orientation).
Of course, there is an SDK, so theoretically I could implement this myself. However, in addition to not having the necessary programming skills, I really don’t have the time because I’m too busy playing with my Sphero…
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