If you’re going to make a robot toy, it’s important to give it a personality. They can be quite expensive, and so to convince people they’re getting their money’s worth, it’s not going to be enough to offer a soulless gadget. It’s got to have character, personality, and something to develop an attachment between person and toy.
Back when I reviewed Sphero 2.0, it had some issues, but one thing it undeniably had was a personality. Despite the internal weighting of the robotic components that made it difficult to actually steer things, the cute little white ball had all kinds of colours to personalise him with, and with some steering practice, the stunts and tricks you could perform with Sphero quickly turned him into a favoured toy of mine.
As with the Sphero, you control your Ollie Darkside using a companion app on your iPhone or Android. You’ll start by naming him (a nice touch in creating a personal connection between person and machine, to be sure), and then the app will calibrate the gadget – a process that takes a couple of seconds. And so, about a minute after unboxing the Ollie you’re away and playing with it. The app controls are a little twitchy at first, but you can jump into the settings and adjust those while you’re learning the ropes. With confidence this thing can zip around at an astounding rate (23 kilometers per hour at full speed, and that is fast), and manoeuvre rapidly, and is naturally designed for people to come up with complex tricks and even choreograph elaborate dances of colour and light using multiples of the device.
And, most importantly, it’s a significant improvement on the usability of the previous Sphero. We might not yet be at the point where a robot ball can be weighted properly to steer intuitively, but we all know how wheels work, and this little two-wheeled gadget is a true master of precision movement.