Sphero gets a firmware upgrade and new apps, we get another look at its Augmented Reality Engine (video)

Sphero gets a firmware upgrade and new apps, we get another look at its Augmented Reality Engine video

You remember Sphero, right? Last we checked in with its creators from Orbotix at E3, the $130 robotic ball was getting ready to act as a 3D controller and the guide point for an Augmented Reality Engine. This week, along with the release of a firmware upgrade, a few new free apps have been released, including two that'll let you use that 3D controller functionality. Better yet, Orbotix has given us a sneak peek at the progress it's made on the AGR since we last checked it out. Join us past the break if you're curious to find out more.

With the firmware upgrade, the company is touting a plethora of improvements -- most of which are related to developers (details are available at the source link). For the end user, however, a trio of fixes should make using a the ball a much more pleasant experience. To start, when Sphero is placed on its inductive charging base, it'll now automatically spin itself into an ideal position for the most efficient charge possible. Getting the ball oriented during each use has also been approved with Fast Aiming -- Sphero can now spin 10x faster during each initial setup where a blue dot appears inside of it to get aligned with a user. Lastly, the ball has received a sportier tuning of sorts, thanks to Vector Drive. Previously, commanding Sphero to perform a drastic turn would require it to arc around, making maneuvers it in tight areas tricky. Now, however, it can essentially change directions on dime, which is also helpful when it hits a wall -- check out the excessively dramatized video above to see for yourself.

Next up, let's talk about those apps before finishing up with another look at the Sphero Augmented Reality Engine. Back at E3 we checked out an app for iOS and Android dubbed Exile -- essentially a take on Asteroids where Sphero is used a 3D controller. Folks eager to get there hands on it will be pleased to know that the app is now officially available. If you'll recall, holding the ball in your hand allows you to control your spacecraft's movements on the horizontal and vertical axes, along with the ability to spin your onscreen spacecraft with a twist of the wrist. Best of all, you can forgo using Sphero as the controller if you'd prefer to simply use your mobile device itself to play. While Exile is certainly the star, another title dubbed Last Fish for iOS can also make use of the 3D controller functionality. %Gallery-163539%

Moving past the 3D controlled games, you'll be able to try the likes of Tag for iOS (a mixture of Red Light Green Light and tag with "collision detection" for setting who is "it"), Colograb (a table-top, reflex-oriented party game) and an enhanced version of Sphero Golf -- not to mention the latest version of the Sphero SDK. We're also told that, come September 14th, the Sphero, Drive and SpheroCam apps will be bundled into one enhanced app dubbed Sphero V2 and that Dooble Grub will join the 3D-controlled app party. As expected, all of the aforementioned apps are completely free, as Orbotix has touted from the beginning.

With all that out of the way, Orbotix has made notable progress on Sphero's Augmented Reality Engine. The newest version we checked out is far from final, but it's gone well beyond the simple 2D overlay we saw at E3 -- now the Engine is also able place and track objects around Sphero itself, which it can interact with. For the demo, we were shown a game with 3D graphics called Sharky the Beaver. Using the Sphero as a marker, our office floor was transformed in a landscape of human figures hoarding cupcakes. Basically, you have the option of transforming Sphero into a virtual shark or a beaver -- the shark scares people in dropping cupcakes, which lets you turn back into a beaver to collect them. The choppy frame rate and jittery overlays in this iteration made it tough to control at, but the tracking on Sphero itself is certainly at least as good as the as the initial demo -- the direction of our character on screen always faced that of the ball without a hiccup. Orbotix let us know that it's working to get everything polished further before any sort of official release. All told, these new apps and features thankfully make Sphero feel like much less of a novelty item than when we first reviewed it last holiday season. You can check it out for yourself at the video above, while you'll find the details for everything else in the press release below.

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this post.

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Sphero Rolls Out New Apps to Turn You Into a Baller

- Debut of new apps for Sphero robotic gaming system presents a new set of entertainment possibilities

BOULDER, Colorado, Aug. 28, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Orbotix, the makers behind Sphero, the first robotic ball controlled by smartphones, today announced six new apps including its first multiplayer and arcade-style games. The games, which include space fighting, tag, golf and a crazed rabbit, are designed around the Sphero gaming system which is controlled with a tilt, touch, or swing from a smartphone or tablet. The apps join Sphero's collection of games designed to reinvent how games and robots (and friends and families) play together.

"With all the new games and existing apps available, there are even more possibilities for how you can engage with Sphero every day," said Paul Berberian, CEO of Orbotix. "Our multi-player apps make Sphero the perfect addition to any party while our new single-player games provide hours of entertainment."

Want to turn yourself into a baller? Check out the new Sphero apps:

Exile – Think beyond traditional, arcade-style space fighter gameplay and fly through space while destroying enemies and collecting energy cores.
ColorGrab – A tabletop, multiplayer game that tests players' reflexes by flashing different colors and requiring players to swoop Sphero up at the right time to earn points.
TAG – A multiplayer game utilizing collision detection technology with a new take on a classic: Red Light, Green Light.
Golf v2 – This most innovative golf game has improved accuracy and course creation as well as a new practice mode. Caddy not included.
Doodle Grub* – A fresh take on the Snake game, and an example of brilliant, third party development. Navigate the grub with Sphero to eat apples, grow and avoid enemies.
Sphero v2*– A redesigned app that is more intuitive and accurate. It combines Sphero Drive, Sphero, SpheroCam, and other new functions together as one happy family.

*Doodle Grub and Sphero v2 available September 14th.

To watch these apps in action, visit

All apps will be available for free in the iOS and Android app stores. To enjoy new games and adventures every day through Sphero apps, Sphero can be purchased at,,

For more information, please visit:

To view Sphero's current app catalog, please visit: