As STEM education becomes more important, Sphero launches a program to get kids (and adults) comfortable with coding — by programming one of it's cool robots.

By Dante A. Ciampaglia
August 09, 2016

With the summer winding down, you’re probably starting to think about what you need for when you go back to school. A new backpack? Probably. More notebooks? Definitely. A robot? Natura...wait what?

As more attention is given to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers, coding and programming have become two very important skills. But learning them can too often mean being stuck in front of a computer. The robotics company Sphero wants to change that with SPRK+.

Launched in June, the combination of a see-through version of Sphero’s classic ball robot ($129) and the SPRK Lightning Lab App (free to download) introduces kids (and adults) to coding through projects that control what the robot does and how it acts. But instead of throwing users into a world they don’t understand, Sphero guides newbies through programming with easy-to-understand elements.

​​The first time you load the app, you’re given blocks of code with simple functions to control turns, speed, and the glow color of the glows. If everything works, the robot rolls along as instructed. If it doesn’t, the app shows you what you need to change. That basic functionality gets users comfortable using code, and as you get better you can dig into the code blocks to tweak and refine them and, eventually, generate new lines of code to make Sphero do all sorts of things.

And that’s where SPRK+ really shines — it’s all about encouraging creativity. The Lightning Lab app comes pre-loaded with ideas to put your new coding skills to use and get you thinking about your own projects. Some kids have navigated Sphero through elaborate mazes, while others make the robot power toy cars and boats. But one one of the best projects is also one of the most elaborate. A 3rd grade class programmed eight Sphero robots to revolve around a yellow ball to replicate our solar system. (The project was so good it earned the kids a trip to the White House science fair!)

So if you’re learning code in school or just have a personal interest in picking it up, it’s worth giving SPRK+ a look — and maybe adding a robot to your back-to-school gear list.

Photos: Sphero

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