Five years ago, Ian Bernstein was working at a robotics company and dreaming of controlling robots with his smartphone. “Back in 2009, nobody was doing it,” says Bernstein, a cofounder and CTO of Orbotix, a Boulder, CO, company that makes connected toys. The Sphero is a versatile robotic ball that can be used as anything from a tool to teach children programming to a ball in a game of miniature golf.
“When we started Orbotix, I was building all the Sphero prototypes with paper clips and brass and stuff like that, and you can only go so far,” Bernstein said. “Having the MakerBot and being able to make more advanced parts, we’re doing bigger and better things now.”
The next big thing from Orbotix is a cylinder with wheels that’s a Sphero crossbred with a remote control car. Originally known as the Sphero 2B, it’s now called Ollie.
Bernstein made the breakthrough prototype of an Ollie on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. He printed the wheels in green PLA and other parts in purple, so he dubbed his prototype The Joker. Late one night at the Orbotix office, The Joker hit a jump and flew through the air, clearing four stacked Sphero boxes. The moment was captured on video, and that’s when everyone knew that they had something special in Ollie, Bernstein says.
Hacking is essential to Orbotix’s company culture, and having 3D printers (back to a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic) allows employees to play around with hardware too. “Hack Fridays” are reserved for experimenting with new ideas. Also, Bernstein says, “Meetings have gone from a lot of arguing to, ‘OK, cool idea. Make it!’” Orbotix now has two MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printers in Boulder and another at their outpost in China.
If you can’t wait for Ollie to launch this fall, watch the video for a preview. And Orbotix offers a free ramp for your Sphero on Thingiverse.