Sphero, a small, rolling ball controlled by a smart phone or a tablet computer, is a toy that is being shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show.
But Orbotix, the Boulder, Colo., start-up company that makes Sphero, hopes its baseball-sized invention will end up being more than just a toy and is using the CES to court retailers, the media and developers.
"We see it as a new gaming platform," said Orbotix Chief Executive Paul Berberian. "We have a sumo game app where people drive balls into each other. We're also working on a game where people can solve math problems to allow them to take control over other people's Sphero until that person can solve a math problem."
Xbox or PlayStation this is not, but an affordable gateway into gaming and robotics is what Berberian is hoping will make Sphero catch on with consumers, namely kids.
Sphero is due for sale online and in stores, which have yet to be named, by the end of the year for less than $100.
Users can use their fingers to drive Sphero or tilt the smart phone or tablet itself to move the ball around. Inside the app, a user can change Sphero's color and speed.
Orbotix is also working on an augmented-reality app for Sphero that would display obstacles on screen that a player would have to dodge.
"Inside the ball, we use components from air traffic controllers," he said. "Everything is programmed with open source code, and it's very easy to program for. So, we think this could be great for education too. It's really an inexpensive way to get into programming and robotics."
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Video: Sphero at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles/Los Angeles Times. Photos: Sphero in hand and a screen shot of the Sphero App. Credit: Orbotix