Difference Maker Story: Sphero

Difference Maker Story: Sphero

Taking Technology Out of the Black Box with Connected Play

 

Sphero empowers effortless learning experiences with the help of Lenovo.

Have you ever accidentally learned physics? Or calculated fractions for fun? That’s exactly what happens when kids interact in their classrooms with SPRK, a learning program invented by Sphero, a company devoted to connected play with app-enabled robots. It’s igniting creativity in over 3,000 US schools and many others internationally. While it does lay the foundation for exploring computer science and programming, the biggest takeaway, according to the founders of Sphero, is that the best lessons are the ones you teach yourself

Making Robotics Accessible

A two-fold vision inspired Sphero’s founders, Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, to create the educational arm of their connected play company: access to robotics and programming fun. Both grew up in rural areas without the latest and greatest technology and a desire to know more about robotics. In 2010, the two met at Techstars, an exclusive tech incubator program, and Sphero was born. The fledgling company hosted hacker-thons and discovered that people loved to learn programming to play with robots. They knew then that kids would be ecstatic for the same opportunity: to program their own robot.

“Robots are found in research labs and manufacturing now, but soon they will be all around us. Lenovo has enabled us to go into things like teaching children how to interact with robots and learn how technology applies to all kinds of different subjects. I think it’s important to understand the world we live in. And if this technology is just a black box to people, then that’s a problem,” explained Ian Bernstein, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Sphero.
From an I.T. perspective, Sphero and Lenovo just clicked. Jordan Chong, Sphero’s System Administrator explained,

When Adam and Ian started the company, they told our engineers they could choose their computing platform and Lenovo laptops were the winner.

Keep it Simple

SPRK totally capitalizes on the tremendous effort Sphero took to make robots easy to program. It allows teachers and children to get creative in the classroom, no matter what the subject. The SPRK Lightning Lab app is the hub teachers and students use to create, contribute, and learn with Sphero Robots. The visual block-based building interface makes learning the basic principles of programming approachable and fun. With the app, and an iOs or Droid phone, like the Lenovo Phab2 or Moto G4, teachers browse through activities, keep track of their classes, and collaborate with users around the world.

“Sphero is a difference maker because we’re helping a new generation of programmers adapt technology to our lifestyles for a better future. SPRK takes our products and makes them an educational tool,” Co-founder, Adam Wilson, Chief Software Architect, Sphero. “We wanted people to take our products and apply them in ways we never thought of. SPRK is doing just that. Our goal was to make robots affordable and programmable. A new form of expression. And so simple that even young children could use our visual programming app. As a result, teachers are getting kids to learn art, math, and even storytelling in ways they never imagined. Lenovo was a big part in helping us engineer great products. ”

“When we first started SPRK we saw kids light up when they realized they could program robots for a living. The idea that Sphero could redefine ‘super geek’ and turn it around into an aspiration was super motivating.”

Lenovo Difference Makers in the Trenches

From an I.T. perspective, Sphero and Lenovo just clicked. Jordan Chong, Sphero’s System Administrator explained, “When Adam and Ian started the company, they told our engineers they could choose their computing platform and Lenovo laptops were the winner. Lightweight and rugged, the P50 is used daily to perform the 3D modeling that’s crucial to the success of our products. All of our hardware and firmware engineers are powered by Lenovo. Being able to share CAD drawings, and having the power to make schematic changes quickly and send them to China for production is critical to our business.”

Chong continued, “I’ve worked with other technology vendors and constantly had to go around and replace accessories, like docks, all the time. Lenovo products have been pretty bulletproof. As a system administrator, not having to put out fires all the time is huge. Sphero is all about connected play versus making toys. Lenovo is all about constantly updating their line with the latest technology for productivity, like solid state drives and small form factors, or packing more power into a portable workstation.”

“I think it’s important to understand the world we live in. And if this technology is just a black box to people, then that’s a problem,” explained Ian Bernstein, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Sphero.

To Infinity and Beyond

What does the future look like for these robotic learning difference makers? They want to continue developing connected play and be difference makers in education and beyond.

“It’s our goal to improve our products to the point that people who program our robots feel like they’re bringing characters to life,” stated Wilson. “We want our robots to learn from their experiences, to know who’s playing with them. By bringing companionship to our characters through robotics, in a sense, the technology disappears. And Lenovo does that for our firmware and design processes. Their technology is so current, reliable, and powerful, we can count on it to get our work done without even thinking about it.”

 
 
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