Why I Love Work and Sphero

20 Sep 2011

OK, it’s Sunday.  I come into the office and half the crew is working.  There is no deadline to meet; I have given no edict that we all must work on the weekend - folks just show up because it is fun.

If you are lucky, maybe once in your career you’ll get to work on something that excites you to the point that coming into work is like going to Disneyland when you were eight.  We have that at Orbotix.

I suspect some of you think that our little robot, Sphero, is just a cute remote-controlled device.  You might say I’m mentally stuck at age 14. Maybe I’m still acting like a 14 year old, but I see something more than a cute gadget.  I see something completely remarkable.

At 11pm on Friday night, the software team completed a prototype app for Mixed-Reality Pong.  Big deal you say? Yes!  You see, Sphero was rolling on the floor and the paddle was on the smartphone screen - you had to hit the real ball with the virtual paddle while looking through the camera.  You could rush the ball by moving forward and give a little english by hitting the ball on the side of the (virtual) paddle.  And that's just one app.  We have a dozen or so apps not yet shown to the world that are all equally amazing.

Also on Friday we had a breakthrough in our guidance system.  The fact that we have a guidance system is incredible.  No other gadget knows what direction it is heading in relationship to the user.  Unless you are a pilot, chances are you have never controlled anything with a guidance system.  The GPS in your car doesn’t count - that tells you where you are but the car needs you to give it input to get on course.  Sphero gets a desired course from the user then follows it, steered by the guidance system.

Back to the breakthrough.  Sphero’s guidance system was pretty good when we showed it off at Pepcom last week, but sometimes when Sphero hit objects it got confused.  Guidance systems are not used to crashing into objects - you certainly wouldn’t do that with a plane or a satellite. Well our Sphero crashes into things all the time like walls, chairs, feet, etc., and it would be nice if Sphero still knew which direction was forward from the perspective of the user.  Well, as of Friday night, Sphero doesn’t get messed up during collisions - it's so good that you can drive Sphero right into a wall a dozen times and it still knows which way is forward.

It's hard for me to explain the joy you get playing with Sphero.  I know I’m biased, but I’m easily distracted and I have yet to get bored with this little guy.  There is something about the incredible degree of controllability that makes Sphero so addicting. It’s almost eerie how you can drive Sphero - nothing comes close to its maneuverability.  I can drive figure 8’s in a 3 foot square in my office, make plus signs all day long in the open area, drive Sphero 60 feet away or drive it blind through my house simply by estimating where I think Sphero is at any moment, and still have it return to me.  Sphero never gets stuck, can go super slow or zip along, and the games are amazing.

That's why I love to come to work.  It's just fun, all day and all night.

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