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How Sphero Works


Sphero's Guts and Glory
What's going on in there?
What's going on in there?
Courtesy of Orbotix

Inside the glowing white ball, you'll find a tiny Segway scooter, just like the one in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," with a miniature mustachioed Kevin James proudly serving his Sphero.

All right, there's no miniature mall cop, but there is a sort of miniature Segway inside. There's a gyroscope and an accelerometer that talk to your tablet (or phone or what have you) and two little rubber wheels. The sensors give yaw, pitch and roll information to whatever app you're playing with so that the computer knows what Sphero is up to -- that little sneak. A counterweight (you can think of it as a tiny Kevin James, if it helps) gets the mechanism moving when you tell it to.

The little wheels run around the inside of the ball like a hamster in a wheel. That is, if that hamster had a spring-loaded bearing pressing down on its furry little back to make sure his tiny hamster feet never leave the inside surface of the ball, even when cornering at speed. Maybe you could put the hamster in the Paul Blart uniform -- because that would be adorable.

We all know, however, that it's what's on the outside that counts. "We sort of designed it to be tough," Bernstein said, "but it turned out to be way, way, way tougher than we'd ever thought." The casing is made of high-density polycarbonate similar to Nalgene bottles, which the very technological Bernstein calls "crazy strong." Sphero has been dropped 25 feet (7.6 meters) onto carpet, thrown and driven by incompetent television hosts to no ill effect.

But can it pass the ultimate test? The ultimate challenge for a ball that can connect to a computer? The Internet wants to know: Can Sphero take on my cat? "Absolutely," said Bernstein. "I don't think there's any possible way a cat would hurt it." Straight from the co-founder's mouth. Cat-loving Internet, let the ridiculous videos commence.


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