Take a look around you. Yes, right now. See that thing over there? Yes, that one. Now, take a moment to think about how it was created. Who invented it? Who designed it? Who turned that idea and design into the physical thing it is today? The short answer: an inventor. Or as we commonly call them here at Sphero, a maker.
When we think about making and inventing, you might think you don't have the right skill set, knowledge, or ability to create something new. The reality is that all it takes is an idea and the desire to bring that idea to life.
Several years ago, the Sphero team set out to create a robot that would make this concept more accessible for our community of educators, hackers, makers, programmers, and learners of all abilities that are interested in computer science and robotics. The idea was simple: create a robot with state-of-the-art sensors, powerful motors with high torque, all-terrain treads, with a 4-pin UART expansion port and onboard power that could support the architecture of another build secured to the top. (See? Simple.) With that, and several hundreds of hours and a few dozen prototypes, Sphero RVR, the go anywhere, do anything, programmable, expandable robotic vehicular platform, was born.
In this blog, we’ll look “under the hood” of RVR, explore the different third party hardware that’s compatible with it, and hear from one of the engineers who worked tirelessly to bring this first-of-its-kind robot to you. Let’s dive right in!
What is Sphero RVR?
At first glance, RVR may look like a typical remote-controlled car or even a tank. While its appearance is slightly deceiving, the reality is there is more to RVR than meets the eye.
“Sphero RVR is unique because of the problem it solves,” says Quentin Michelet, Product Manager at Sphero who was involved in RVR’s development.
Michelet adds, “As a person who loves building prototypes, many of my (failed) experiments required a platform able to power up and move a set of sensors from one place to another. While creating a robot from scratch is really fun, it’s just a lot of work. It’s a distraction from the real goal, which is to figure out if the concept you are testing is going to work or not. RVR allows you to jump right in the action, giving you an easy to use platform that saves you a lot of time.”
Now it is true that RVR is a mobile robot that you can drive right out of the box. Through the Sphero Edu app, you can connect your smartphone, tablet, or computer to RVR using Bluetooth Smart and drive it anywhere. But wait, there’s more!
RVR features a host of advanced onboard sensors, like a color sensor, light sensor, IR (or infrared), magnetometer, accelerometer, and gyroscope. Also, it’s the first Sphero robot to feature a rechargeable, swappable battery so your inventing doesn’t have to stop when the juice gets low.
It also features a 4-pin UART expansion port and onboard power, so you can attach and run third-party hardware (we’ll look into each of those later in the blog!) to create something unique on top and make it mobile.
How Does RVR Compare to Other Sphero Robots?
RVR is great for beginners who are just dipping a toe into coding and programming since they can start out with Draw & Drive before diving into Scratch Blocks. However, it's ideal for intermediate or advanced users who want to expand their programming projects and coding creations by integrating its powerful onboard sensors.
What Third-Party Hardware is Compatible with Sphero RVR?
The 4-pin UART expansion port and USB port built into RVR allows for external, third-party hardware to be added, powered, and built upon while RVR traverses new territory. This includes Raspberry Pi, micro:bit, and Sphero’s own littleBits line of electronic building blocks.
“We all have our preferred work environments,” says Michelet. “If you are a high schooler in the UK, you are likely to know how micro:bit works, if you are an experienced maker you might prefer working with Raspberry Pi.”
For someone who is just getting started, littleBits may be a more approachable, enjoyable option to try. With Sphero RVR, variety is at your fingertips.
What is a Raspberry Pi? On their website, a Raspberry Pi is described as a “tiny and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming through fun, practical projects.” It’s a low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python.1
Below are some beginner, intermediate and advanced activities to try that incorporate coding a Raspberry Pi to build upon RVR.
For beginner RVR projects:
- Raspberry Pi Sense Hat
- Create a weather robot (Temperature, Humidity, Barometric Pressure)
- Add LED animations to your RVR
- Use onboard joystick to give different commands to RVR
- Raspberry Pi Camera
- Time lapse video of a RVR program running
- Record video of an area only a robot can access
For Intermediate to advanced RVR projects:
- SparkFun Basic Autonomous Kit for RVR
- Use camera to patrol a room
- Add Computer Vision (CV) for image recognition programs
- SparkFun Advanced Autonomous Kit for RVR
- Collision and obstacle detection/avoidance
- GPS Geofence keeps RVR contained
There are also activities to get started with RVR and Raspberry Pi available in the Sphero Edu app, like this one.
If you’re already a seasoned programmer and Raspberry Pi user, RVR allows you to take your projects and further bring them to life. With the ability to make them mobile, where will you take your ideas next?
What is micro:bit? “The BBC micro:bit is a pocket-sized computer that introduces you to how software and hardware work together,” according to the website. micro:bit is widely used in the United Kingdom, but is gaining popularity in other countries as well.
Here’s a great activity to show you how to get started with RVR and micro:bit.
We recently released a new Bit that combines the functionality of micro:bit with the creativity and inventiveness of littleBits! The littleBits micro:bit Adapter connects micro:bit and littleBits to enable new learning experiences and creative inventions in a less-intimidating way.
You can enhance your learning with micro:bit by adding coding to your littleBits using platforms like the free Microsoft MakeCode or Python editor. It works by connecting the signals from the littleBits input and output bitsnaps to pins on the micro:bit edge connectors. No special coding libraries are needed.
Below are some beginner, intermediate, and advanced projects to try with micro:bit:
- Micro:bit Tinker Kit by Elecfreaks
- Great for out of the box experiments using MakeCode (block programming and text based) for micro:bit. Sample project ideas:
- Create soil moisture sensing robot
- Create a mechanical arm with a Servo motor
- SparkFun Inventor's Kit for micro:bit
Did you know littleBits are also compatible with Sphero RVR too? It’s part of the reason why these powerful, snap-together Bits were the perfect addition to the Sphero product line of STEAM-based educational tools.
A recent addition to the littleBits collection is the littleBits RVR Topper Kit, which combines the best of Sphero with the best of littleBits in an easy and approachable kit. With the littleBits RVR Topper Kit, you can fully utilize RVR’s onboard capabilities with littleBits adaptability to create your own inventions.
Here are a few activities or lessons to try with the littleBits RVR Topper Kit:
- RVR Topper Kit Lessons
- Create a path clearing robot
- Create a programmed gate for RVR to open
Getting Started with Sphero RVR
We’ve covered a lot of ground and possibilities in this blog so hopefully now you’re ready to jump in and get started making, coding and more with RVR. First things first, however, get to know the robot and see what it’s capable of right out of the box.
Michelet adds, “I really encourage people to play with it for some time. Get a feel for its driving capabilities, understand how the onboard sensors work. There is plenty you can do right out of the box.”
When you’re ready to take it up a notch, see what projects are already out there for inspiration. Michelet continues, “Look at what other people have built with it, and what they are saying about their experience.”
“Finally, start with the examples that we have made available [on the public SDK]. Small tweaks allow you to see what the important pieces of the code are, and help you create a good architecture for your project,” says Michelet.
We hope you’re now inspired to take the next step in your robotics journey and explore more advanced projects with Sphero RVR. Now, when you look at the world around you, see it with fresh, maker-focused eyes, and consider how your ideas could leave a lasting impression for years to come.
“Anyone can build great things. There are a lot of amazing projects out there, either difficult to make or not,” Michelet concludes. “But you have to remember that it’s all about learning and having fun while you’re at it.”