The Great Robot Showdown- Ollie vs. Sphero vs. Dash

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Librarians always want to know how to get the best “bang for their buck” because it’s always important to stretch a budget as far as possible. With all the robots rolling around these days, you might wonder which Bot is the best for you and your patrons.  Here’s a comparison chart to help you decide (Since this table might be difficult to read, so you can also read this chart in Googledoc format, but make sure you scroll to the end of this post to see my favorite robots!)

Sphero Ollie Dash and Dot Cubelets Ozobots
Cost $129 $99 $199 (for the pair)

$280 (Wonder pack with accessories)

6 set – $160

20 set- $499

$60
Pairing The original Sphero is quite finicky- Sphero is a one device kinda robot. Best used with shared iPads that are pre-synced- see post on logistics.

(Compatible devices)

UPDATE: The new Sphero SPRK + robot is similar to Ollie. You place Sphero on an ipad and it connects! (Thank you for listening to your users and updating this!)

Super easy. Place Ollie on your device and it connects right away.

(Compatible devices)

Easily syncs with Apple and Android.

(Full compatibility chart)  

No syncing- No extra device needed. These guys just snap together and go!
No chart needed! 🙂
Doesn’t seem to sync well with iPads. Plus, you have to take the case off to use with an iPad, which is no bueno in a school setting. Plus, it will have to be a device with a 9” screen. So won’t work on my iPad mini or with a phone. (Doesn’t really say….)
Functionality Easy to drive, easy to program. Native apps are good (see more below.) Original works great once paired, but sometimes it is difficult to pair (especially if people are using their own device.) UPDATE: New Sphero SPRK + has fixed this problem! Sphero Logistics Post Driving it is difficult because it’s super speedy. However, you can turn down the speed while learning to drive. Tricks are fun, but not necessarily educational. I do like Ollie a lot more now that I can program it with the Tickle App. It is quite easy to program using Tickle and introduce Algebra concepts as well! Works great! Driving is easy. I love the sensors on Dash. When turned on, it turns to find you and once it does, Dash says, “Hey….” And if you don’t turn on an app and start playing he’ll start looking around. He’s kind of adorable that way.  Dot doesn’t move, but also talks and has a sensor. When the two find each other they will interact.  Honestly, I use Dash more because I enjoy programming this robot and driving it around. Snap together and have great electronics concepts. I first saw these at TCEA and I loved how they taught me electrical concepts like “Inverse” and “Motion Sensing.” However, since the Cubelets aren’t marked, you are relying on your students (patrons) to read the cards to learn about each cube’s function. Once I bought them for my MS students, I noticed they just snapped them all together and I’m not sure much learning was involved. I will start by saying, I do not own any Ozobots, but I used them in Lewisville ISD and at the recent B&N Maker faire.  Both times it seemed many of the Ozobots did not work.  Them seem to be quite buggy.  The line following marker programming is neat, but does not always work either.
It seems like this would be a cool robot, but still needs to get some kinks worked out. Also, students don’t seem to have much to learn from them yet. It’s an interesting take on a line following robot, but I don’t feel like the transference of “coding” is really there yet with this little robot.
Best Age Group Elementary- High School

Everybody loves Sphero. The only issue I have is the way it connects to a device and can be troublesome to connect to different device. Yes, you can click “Forget this device” but that can be difficult direction for a class of students of any age.

Upper elementary- High School

Ollie is pretty much fun for any age, but it is difficult for a first grader to drive. (Easy to sync though!) However, programming Ollie is still easy to do with the Tickle App.

Elementary through High school

Initially I thought Dash was just for elementary students, but lately he’s been visiting the high school and the students LOVE him. However, in high school we don’t use the Wonder Workshop apps (I think my HS students would be put off by them), instead we program Dash with the Tickle App.

Elementary – High School

Fun for elementary age students. My middle school students also enjoyed them.

Hard to say

It seems they made these for elementary age children, but my 6 year old had problems drawing the coding lines correctly (and she’s a pretty meticulous artist.) I wouldn’t recommend this product at this time.

Official Apps We used Macrolab last year, but the new SPRK programming app is AMAZING! It teaches kids the language of coding AND has a lot of great math operators and the ability to add variables. Students can learn from the sample programs that are already loaded in the app. PLUS, you can drive it back to you from within the SPRK app. The Ollie app is fun to drive, but is not educational. Unfortunately, the SPRK app will not connect with Ollie and I never had success pairing for Macrolab either. (BUT! Read comments in the “unofficial app” below!) Great official apps from Wonder Workshop designed as games to teach younger students about coding.  Solid apps for a solid product.  I like Blockly because it’s very similar to Scratch programming. Not applicable Meh- again, I had issues trying to connect Ozobot to app since you have to take the cover off the iPad. This is not a good idea in a school setting! This is more of a home device than a school or public library device.
Sphero Ollie Dash and Dot Cubelets Ozobots
Unofficial Apps Tickle App: Program Drones, Sphero, etc! SO AMAZING! You can connect all of your devices and program them all from one project! I’m currently creating a dance party with Dash, Ollie, Sphero, and a drone! Teaches kids about programming and the importance of math concepts! (List of compatible devices) Tickle App: Programming Ollie with the Tickle app is so easy! I’m so happy with it I ordered another Ollie.  I feel like this app moves Ollie from toy status to educational status! Thanks, Tickle app! Yep, you guessed it, works great with the Tickle App!  You can program Dash to giggle when you pick him up, or get dizzy when he runs into things. Love it!
Also enjoy programming Dash from my Android phone with the Blocklify app since Tickle is not currently available for Android.
Not applicable Not applicable
Accessories The ramps are cool, but you can make all kinds of fun obstacles using cardboard or old encyclopedias! Same as Sphero

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I don’t have any yet, but would love to get the Xylophone and Launcher . Also, I don’t have this, but he educator pack comes with a curriculum subscription. Based on how awesome the apps are from Wonder Workshop, I bet the curriculum is stellar! You can always buy more cubelets that have different functions.   You can buy markers from Ozobot or just get some wide tipped Sharpie’s or Crayola markers. However, the line has to be drawn well and not to dark or the robot won’t read it.  This seems complicated for smaller age children, but would probably be okay with middle school and high school students
Usability Easy peasy to drive once connected. Easy for ages 6 and up. A little difficult to drive since he’s so fast. Probably geared more toward middle grade and teens. Super easy for all ages. Snap together and go! Easy! Probably created for 5th grade and up.
Flexibility Sphero can help you teach math concepts, art concepts, and is just plain fun! With the Tickle app, students can learn more about math concepts using Ollie. With the suite of apps from Wonder Workshop, users can enjoy making music, having the robots talk to one another, programming, and more.   Meh-it’s fun. But it’s expensive. The website makes it look flexible, but I’m still struggling to see how this product does anything that my other robots aren’t already doing.  Sphero and Dash just blow this robot out of the water.  
Longevity Sphero is one tough dude. My Middle schoolers dropped him multiple times with no problems…until they dropped him from too high. He got a crack, but still worked. Also, Sphero is a pretty rad company and they replaced it no problem.
You can also drop this dude in water or dip it in paint.
Ollie is also pretty tough.  He drives at supersonic speeds, crashes, and gets right back up. One solid little robot! Dash seems tough, but I do worry when my littles try to pick him up by the head or mess with him while he’s moving. But no issues yet! Tough and Resilient.  Batteries hold quite a charge and can be charged through Micro USB. Not able to answer this since the ones I’ve seen don’t seem to work very well in the first place.

My favorites?

I’d say the class set of Spheros I own show I’m pretty partial to this bot. However, I wish it would connect the way Ollie and Dash do. UPDATE: THANK YOU, SPHERO! The new SPHERO SPRK + edition has fixed the connectivity problems I discussed in this post!  I’m also pretty in love with Dash from Wonder Workshop. Even though Dash and Dot might seem expensive to you, now that I’ve had them for a few months, I think the expense is totally worth it. It is one solid robot team. Plus, the apps and lesson plans from Wonder Workshop are high quality stuff. It depends on what your audience is though.  Are you working with teens or younger children?  School Library or Public? Do you want them to teach curricular concepts or for engaging students in the library? Sphero is really a great Bot for all ages. Even though Dash is designed for elementary age students, I still think Dash is a cool Bot for teenagers if you focus on programming it with the Tickle App. So read the reviews, decide what is most important for you and your library, and decide for yourself! 🙂

Edit: The Kibo Robot Kit by KinderLab Robotics is a great freestanding robot that requires no device.  It’s great for kinesthetic learners because they “scan” the coding blocks and then set Kibo to “run.”

 

 

 

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Sphero Programming and BLAST classes

Had a great couple of days this week facilitating Mr. S’s BLAST classes! We challenged the students to do some simple programming with Sphero using the Tickle App.

Teamwork

Our goals were to:

  • teach the students some collaboration/teamwork skills
  • introduce the concept of coding
  • teach students to own their failures and learn from them
  • teach students to problem solve for different outcomes

Lucky for me, I was able to borrow a great lesson from my #superlibrarianhubs, Aaron Graves that he taught with AVID students last year.

Mr. S and Mrs. R paired BLAST students ahead of coming to the library, and we showed them a quick video about Sphero featuring Grant Imahara.

I had them spread out around the library to test drive Sphero with the Drive app for a few minutes (because you always have to let them play a little bit to get them engaged.) However, once we start programming, I warned the students that I will take the iPads and Spheros from them if they used the drive app instead of programming. (I know, I know, mean librarian…)

After their initial drive, we brought them back together to teach them a few coding tricks. I kept things simple and taught them that every program needs a “When” block and posed the question, “Why?” A few gamers quickly realized, that if you don’t tell your game/program “When to start,”  you can write all the code in the world, but nothing will happen.

Before class, I’d made 12 stations around the library with tape.  An initial red dot of tape to start and a long red piece of tape for the stop.  I also put a second orange piece of tape to place the obstacle so that students could easily grab an obstacle for that section of the lesson. The first challenge was for students to program Sphero to drive from the start and stop on the tape.  Even though programming Sphero to drive in a straight line sounds easy, it is actually quite a difficult task.  Lining up the tail light is tough for the novice, but adjusting the time to get it stop at the stop line is where the real fun begins. It’s also hard to catch these successes on video!

My favorite part of this lesson was discussing how we all solved the problem with different solutions.  The students were able to adjust speed and the length of drive time for different outcomes. Some students even noticed that certain areas of the library had more friction and so even the same drive time would not guarantee the same result! We were secretly teaching them physics!

Programming

The students were also challenged to drive around an obstacle and jump a ramp. For this, I added more “motion” block knowledge to the students’ toolbox, and I loved listening to them plan their strategies out loud. I could definitely see the Martinez and Stager Think Make Improve process at work.  The best part of the lesson was really discussing what works best programming-wise and discussing why some teams were more successful than others. The most successful teams were the ones who just started trying and weren’t afraid to fail.  Which led me to sharing how Thomas Edison had over a 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at creating the lightbulb (which I learned reading Creative Confidence based on Diana Rendina’s suggestion), and that if he had given up, we’d be sitting there in the dark.

Our last challenge was “The Slow Race” we had students program Sphero to drive from the start to the stop and the winner would be the student who took THE MOST time getting there.  We discussed why Sphero wouldn’t roll with under 10% speed on the carpet versus the smooth table and one student even had a great hack where they started Sphero at 25% and then dropped down to 7% because the initial inertia would keep it moving!

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So the teachers and I pressed the students to “own their failures and learn from them.” We taught them some basic coding skills and we saw some great examples of teamwork. Now the teachers want to come back next month for a communication/programming exercise where we have an obstacle course in between the stacks and one student has to tell the other student how to create the program and the student programming Sphero can not see the course.

Until then, we are going to be trying out a new art trick I found over at iPad Art Room where the students program Sphero and create light trail art!

Sphero Light art made by my 6 YO

Sphero Light art made by my 6 YO

Logistics Tip: We only used 12 Spheros at a time so that we could charge the other 12 Spheros for the next class.  I also have my Spheros paired with specific iPads and I had them laid out for students ahead of time.  Sometimes, Sphero can still be cranky, so I brought one of my mobile charging units to the classroom area in case we had to reset any Spheros. I left the other 12 charging in my office so it was clear which Spheros were charging for class and which ones we were using for that period!