Sphero, a robotics and educational toy company headquartered at 4775 Walnut St, exemplifies Boulder’s vibrant, diverse startup and tech scene.
Launched in 2010 by Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, Sphero, formerly known as Orbotix, emerged through Techstars Boulder Accelerator‘s 2010 class and has blossomed into a vibrant company, highlighted by a 2015 partnership with Disney in which it developed licensed robots for Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, including the popular robot replica of Star Wars: The Force Awakens robot star BB-8.
The company’s products range from programmable cars and electronic music kits to computer science course books, maze tape, wireless transmitters, and even books for teachers and classroom code kit bundles which come colorful plastic toy-looking containers. The educational robots and software operate under its Sphero Edu division launched in 2016.
On May 15, the company announced the spin-0ff of its public safety division into its own business, Company Six (CO6), which plans to make robots and AI applications that help first responders using its own technology and some licensed from Sphero. The company raised a $3 million seed round led by San Francisco’s Spider Capital with participation from existing Sphero investors Foundry Group and Techstars, and a new investor, Denver-based GAN Ventures.
This is the second spin-off for the growing firm. In 2017, it launched Misty Robotics as its own in-home robotics company. Sphero acquired Specdrums, another Boulder-based audio visual tech company in 2018 and New York City-based startup littleBits in 2019.
“It’s really gratifying for us as designers and engineers so when you have people using something beyond what you originally planned,” CO6 CEO Jim Booth told BLDRfly.
When it comes to robotics and integrative technology, similar to how the tools and sensors can allow kids to interact with different environments and measure experiments, the same technology can also have an application in a more professional world.
“One thing we learned,” says Jim, “is if you make things easy to use, put them at a really good value and put into people’s hands, it really proliferates.”
An original mentor of Sphero, Jim most recently served as the Sphero’s chief operating officer before his current captain position with CO6.
STEM + STEAM
Through its educational wing, Sphero has helped amplify STEAM learning. STEAM adds “Art” to the classic science, technology, engineering and math acronym.
Sphero Edu products help teach coding, the basics of physics and other topics typically covered by core STEM classes you’d take in school but supports additional creative, musical and artistic activities.
For example, you could program your robot to navigate a maze, take soil temperature, or even code a poem through its speakers. Some STEAM-based classes even dip the robots into paint and code paintings.
Children as young as five can learn to create sequences for the robot by drawing a path for the bot to follow. The toys and programs through its educational platform let young people learn the basics of programming without having to use a screen, at least initially.
Since inception, Sphero’s technology has entered the classrooms of over 40,000 educators worldwide, over 20,000 institutions, with over 4.5 million users on its digital learning platform, Sphero Edu.
Header Image: The Sphero RVR, which can be transformed into almost any kind of robot. Image: sphero.com.