Sphero's Augmented Reality Engine gets fully realized in Sharky the Beaver (video)

Sphero's Augmented Reality Engined gets fully realized in Sharky the Beaver

Been keeping up to date with the quirky robotic ball named Sphero? We've been wondering when its Augmented Reality Engine would finalize into a full-fledged app since we first witnessed it at E3 as a simple 2D tech demo. Well, today is the day that this Android and iOS-controlled ball makes its first official release steps into the world of AR -- the engine has grown up, powering Orbotix's latest free app, Sharky the Beaver. While the game itself is still admittedly silly and demo-like since we saw an early adaptation in August, there's no question that the AGR is now in a polished state.

As a refresher, unlike other implementations that require a stationary marker, Sphero serves as one that can move around your area, while also relaying information about its position. The 3D character on screen rotates its directions as you spin Sphero, and, as you can see above, it even allows you to pick the ball up while it's being tracked. The frame-rate of tracking in the app itself looked very smooth, and it does an admirable job keeping track of the ball, even if it ends up off-screen. At that point, gameplay is limited to flicking cupcakes on the ground that Sharky goes to automatically, and there's no word on if and when we'll see the features shown off in the early version (namely, where the Sharky part of the name was actually a key element, as you chased people on-screen to get their cupcakes). All in all, we're more curious than anything to see what else the folks at Orbotix will come up with in the realm of AR -- for more in the meantime, check out our video hands-on after the break.

Sphero Augmented Reality: Sharky the Beaver from Sphero on Vimeo.

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Sphero Debuts Groundbreaking Augmented Reality App

BOULDER, Colo., Nov. 16, 2012 - Orbotix, the makers of Sphero, the first robotic ball gaming system controlled by smartphones and tablets, today announced the release of their groundbreaking augmented reality app, Sharky the Beaver. "Using Sphero as the moving fiducial, games can now be created where characters come to life and roam around a user's house to interact with the real world environment," said Orbotix CEO Paul Berberian.

While the concept has been around for many years, the technology has lagged due to limitations in processing power and computer vision algorithms. The solution typically is to use fiducials - identifiable fixed markers in the environment to provide clues on how to overlay virtual objects into a real world scene. These fiducials do not allow for dynamic game play, significant movement, or user interaction. Using Sphero as the moving robotic fiducial, with advanced proprietary algorithms and onboard sensor data from Sphero, Orbotix is able to offer an AR experience never seen before in any commercially available product - let alone in a game system. "The game play is other-worldly. You really embrace the character because of the realistic features, animations, and shadows that fit naturally into the scene. Plus it just works in virtually all environments," said Berberian.

The app, Sharky The Beaver, overlays a virtual beaver on top of Sphero. As users drive Sphero with their iOS device, Sharky comes to life and runs around the environment looking for cupcakes. The user can also rotate their device into portrait mode to toss cupcakes at Sharky as he autonomously runs around.

"While the initial gameplay is fairly basic, we felt it was important to give people an experience that seemed magical. Most people have never used AR, so Sharky will be their first experience and we didn't want to overwhelm their senses," said Orbotix co-founder and chief software architect Adam Wilson. "Sharky is so simple that everyone can bring him to life and not get caught up in how it works. The technology disappears and requires no setup - people can just play and enjoy this crazy little cupcake-munching guy running around their house."

Sharky the Beaver is initially available for iOS and Sphero owners can download the app directly from the iTunes App Store today. Orbotix also plans to release their augmented reality SDK for Sphero in January 2013 so developers can create their own AR games and apps. Go behind-the-scenes at Orbotix and see a video of Sharky the Beaver in-action by viewing the blog post that Orbotix released today:

With 20+ apps now available, Sphero makes a great gift for this holiday season. It can be found at Target, Brookstone, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Stores. Sphero is also available at and other online outlets.