Sphero SPRK+: Play and Education in the Technology Era

By: Noa Nitzan, Occupational Therapist 3, July 2018

As technology rapidly advances, it brings with it many interesting innovations, including new varieties of robots.

The SPRK+, by Sphero, is a great example of  fun toy, that’s easy to use, making it a great option for children and adults with various disabilities. It is easily programmable, allowing the creation of a variety activities, so this robot ball can be used for practising many skills including communication, problem solving, planning, and more. The SPRK+ is managed using an app, Sphero Edu, available on both the App Store and Google Play.

To use, you must buy the robot and download the app.

A few technical details (Thanks to Arik Bronshtein from WeDiggit):

  • 4 methods of operation: manual, drawing, block-based coding, and Javascript text
  • Reaches 4.5 km/h
  • Fall, crash, color, and water resistant
  • There are accessories that can be attached and the SPRK+ will operate them
  • Interfaces with Scratch (app for coding)
  • Quick inductive charging (no need for wifi)
  • 2018 update to work with PC and Mac

The SPRK+ is a piece of technology that was developed for the wider population, not specifically for people with disabilities, but because of it’s ease of use and the fact that it is a cool fun toy from the regular market, it can be used with people with disabilities easily and in many ways. For example, you can make a maze and guide the ball through it as you would a remote controlled car.

maze

Another simple idea would be to place obstacles in its way, like a tower of blocks, and have it knock them over. Options are endless…imagination is the key…and the game!

I’ve seen people attach markers to the robot to have it draw, or people that have placed a large plastic cup over it, with a face drawn on it, so it looks like the cup is moving, and other fun ideas.

You can also order accessories like ramps, and add-ons like this Lego car.

Lego car

Lego car

For those that can code, there are a variety of ways to code the SPRK+ from the most simple (drawing a path on the app that the robot will follow) to the hardest (writing actual code). Drawing a path in the app is great practice for fine motor skills, and cognitive perceptual skills, such as learning about shapes. The inherent playfulness that comes with this ball is very motivating to users and encourages playing with others and communication. It is important to note, that though we are talking about programming a robot, it can be used with people with a variety of functional abilities, which is a big advantage. AS it does require a level of accuracy and regulation, individuals with motor difficulties may find it difficult to use.

I was recently at a workshop led by WeDiggit, at Levinsky College, where I tried the SPRK+ and I really enjoyed it (highly important 😊). During the workshop, we saw the robot being used with groups from two different institutions and I am happy to share their ideas with you (with their permission, of course):

  • Anat Goldshtien, Technology Coordinator, On School, Tel Aviv (a school for children with cerebral palsy, complex disabilities, and mild intellectual disability) presented a wonderful activity where the students try out basic coding for the robot. Many skills can be used when working/playing with this robot, including writing graphic code, in which the students use spacial skills to plan a path, incorporating concepts such as direction and angles. While planning code, the students also learn logic and problem solving skills.
  • Students and staff (Noa Avital, OT and Tsofit Elbak, SLP) from ALEH – Moriah Center, Gedera, presented activities from their robotics group, in which the participants learn to code the robot incorporating use of AAC. For example,  In one of the activities, the students choose the obstacles to include in the play area and then each decides which one they want to knock over. Tsofit Elbak, AAC consultant, says “At the Moriah School of ALEH, Moriah Center, students with moderate to severe intellectual and developmental disabilities participate in the robotics group. The students operate the robot using the iPad. The activities improve their sense of their own capabilities and afford the multidisciplinary staff an opportunity to incorporate many goals, including social, communication, and other functional goals in an enjoyable and normative way. Using communication boards specific to the robotics group, the students have opportunities to express thoughts and feelings, and interact with and encourage their peers, and share experiences.”
Students from ALEH – Moriah Center

Students from ALEH – Moriah Center

The following link shows a video from the workshop. The dialogue is in Hebrew, but you can appreciate the value of the activities without the language.

Robotics Workshop

Have you tried the SPRK+? We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences! 😊

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