We know and love Orbotix for their magical Sphero robotic balls, which can roll themselves around without any external moving parts. It seems like just a few months ago (barely five months) that we met the second generation of their round robot, so we were more than a little bit surprised that when at CES this week, Orbotix decided to introduce a completely new, and completely different, rolling robotic toy: the Sphero 2B.
The big change on the Sphero 2B is the most obvious one: the thing's got wheels. Whereas the original Spheros use drive systems completely contained inside their sealed shells, the 2B is more like a traditional remote-controlled car. This makes it less waterproof, but a heck of a lot faster: controlled with your iOS or Android device over Bluetooth low energy, the 2B can drive at over 5 meters per second (have fun trying to keep up with it), which is quick enough to get about a meter of air if you launch it off of a jump. And the more traditional steering system makes it a bit easier to drive than a round Sphero, ensuring that when you do go off of a jump, it's intentional.
What might be most interesting to us about the 2B is the fact that it's been designed from the ground up to be modular and customizable. The shell, wheels, treads, and wheel hubs can all be swapped out, so you can give the robot knobbly off-road tires for traction, or slick tires for speed. We're expecting to see a bunch of different options show up from Orbotix, and even more options to show up from users who want to take a crack at making their robots better.
The other new piece of hardware in the Sphero 2B is an infrared cannon of sorts, along with infrared sensors, contained in the body of the robot. The first application for these is going to be for robot battles, where you can chase another Sphero 2B around, "shooting" at it with infrared light (which looks similar to the battle mode in the robotic car racing game Anki Drive). You'll also be able to pick up a set of infrared beacons, allowing you to create invisible light fences that you can program your 2B to stay within.
Like the original Spheros, the 2B is open and programmable, and we're looking forward to what new kinds of programmability (and even autonomy) users might be able to leverage with the infrared beacons. You can expect to see the Sphero 2B up for sale by fall of 2014, for significantly less money than its brethren at under $100.
[ Orbotix ]
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Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.