Sphero BOLT Review Programmable Roving Robot RC Amphibious Ball

Monday, September 21, 2020

A cool and interesting way to learn how computers perform tasks, Sphero BOLT is a quirky remote controlled roving robot designed to teach you how to code a computer program! 
While most robots typically use DC motors with gears and a motor controller, Sphero BOLT has a ball enclosure construction that integrates multiple sensors and rotary encoders mounted onto two DC motors that allows BOLT to be driven on land and water. 
With the help of magnetic sensors, a gyroscope sensor, accelerometer sensor and rotary encoders, you can measure BOLT's angular position, direction and speed. These sensors also help BOLT maintain balance and stability like a Segway.
BOLT is able to fully rotate 360 degrees inside the ball enclosure, as well as tilt left to right and up and down. Runtime varies depending on activities but, you can get up to 2 hours playtime with heavy usage (including motorized activities), and up to 6 hours if you aren't driving BOLT all the time. The 1250 mAh battery inside BOLT recharges via micro USB connection, taking 6 hours to fully charge from 0% to 100%. 
Aside from a gyroscope and accelerometer, BOLT integrates a compass, light sensor and infrared sensor that allows BOLT to interact with another BOLT. The light sensor inside BOLT is a phototransistor type, which works similar to the ambient light sensor in a smartphone or car lighting system to automatically adjusts brightness of light based on the ambient light of the surrounding area. 
BOLT can measure light luminosity from 0 lux (dark) to 100,000 lux (bright daylight), allowing you to set programs to start or end when BOLT detects a preset amount of lux (light). For instance, you can set a program to end when the lights in a room turn off.
Sphero BOLT has RGB lighting too, consisting of front and back RGB LEDs, as well as a 8x8 led matrix grid, which is more dynamic and can display any color. The 8x8 led matrix grid consists of 64 dots (pixels), which contain individually addressable and programmable leds so, you can really personalize BOLT from other BOLTS, which is handy for telling them apart.
Sphero BOLT has an interesting see-through shell made of transparent hard plastic that exposes the internal circuitry so, you can see the inner workings. The plastic ball shell protects BOLT from any bumps, scratches and it can survive being dropped from a desk.
BOLT is not indestructible though, it will eventually break if you drop it too many times from a great height. There is no IPX rating but BOLT is waterproof and will operate in water and float.
Sphero BOLT's charging dock/stand also has a similar see-through shell as BOLT but with slightly tinted plastic that also exposes the charging circuitry and conductive wireless charging coil. Conductive charging works similar to the Qi induction charging technology of Qi wireless enabled smartphones. The main difference being conductive charging requires a physical connection; hence you cannot recharge Sphero BOLT via a conventional wireless charger. 
The BOLT charger dock has an opaque base with rubber feet. The top is concave inward like a bowl, allowing BOLT to rest securely on the charger. Even when driving BOLT, it will not slip out of the charger. BOLT has to be positioned on the charger with the steel ball, facing down otherwise it will not charge. When placed correctly, the charging dock's blue status led will blink, indicating charging in progress. The blue led becomes solid and stops flashing when full charge is complete.
From the Sphero EDU app, you will be able to check BOLT's battery level, as well as install firmware updates and place BOLT into sleep mode. You can manually turn off BOLT by placing it on the charging dock and holding down the button.
Sphero BOLT connects to the EDU app via Bluetooth connection (up to 30 meters range). The Sphero EDU app - which is available on Google Play Store, App Store and Microsoft Store. BOLT's packaging box shows that the Sphero EDU app is available on the Microsoft App Store, although this is no longer the case because it is now defunct along with Windows phone's operating systems (Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone 8.1), which have been officially discontinued early this year.
Microsoft has basically coffined Windows phone devices too since they are not longer releasing security/support updates. In fact, Microsoft is even asking Windows phone users to switch to Android or iOS, although some are choosing to install an ARM version of Chrome on their device instead.
The Sphero EDU app does not require an account to see the app's features but,you will need to create one to start, save and resume an activity. The EDU app does require location permission, which is not needed but seemingly required by the vast majority of android apps. 
Some mobile apps even require more intrusive permissions such as access to your contacts and messages. Having location enabled on a phone does drain the phone's battery. To minimize this, you can change the default High accuracy Location mode, which uses GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and mobile networks to Battery mode or Device only, which uses only GPS, not Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or mobile networks.
Sphero EDU app has a myriad of activities, some designed specifically for BOLT while other activities are designed for other Sphero devices.  Each activity is clearly labeled with a description, subject focus (i.e. math, computing), duration, grade and outcome so, you know what to expect. Each BOLT activity will also outline requirements such as things needed to accomplish the activity. 
Sphero EDU app works well without any apparent glitches and it's clearly laid out so anyone (regardless of age) will be able to navigate their way around. When closing and opening the app, BOLT does not automatically re-connect.
There are three ways to create lines of code to program Sphero BOLT: 1) Using drawing, 2) Using blocks and 3) Using text. Drawing code and building blocks of code are the easiest way to program BOLT. 

The block format is particularly fun because it works a bit like a puzzle, dragging and dropping pieces together. You can tell BOLT how far to go and adjust BOLT's pitch, roll and yaw. After the program is constructed, you simply enter values for speed, duration and rotation and run the program. The data that BOLT registers can be downloaded in CSV format. 
Aside from the charging dock, Sphero BOLT includes an unbranded micro USB cable, stickers and a cardboard clock. BOLT weighs 194 grams, while the charging dock weighs 60 grams. 
Both Sphero BOLT and the companion EDU app are designed to spark the creativity of users between 2 and 12 years, although anyone with a knack for learning will find BOLT a curious proposition, especially since BOLT can be operated like a remote controlled amphibious vehicle. You can buy Sphero BOLT from amazon.

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