The Ollie: A Pretty, Smartphone-Controlled Robot You Can Smash Into Stuff

Meet the spiritual successor to the Sphero.

When the original Sphero launched in late 2011, plenty of folks were wowed by it. (We sure were.) The robot crammed the remote control capabilities of an RC car into a perfectly round, Apple-esque design that lit up in different colors when it rolled around. It was cool mostly because it didn't look or act much like any toy that came before it. It was a video game brought to life.

Today, Orbotix (one of our Most Innovative Companies) is launching its second RC bot that you can control with an iOS or Android app. This one is called the Ollie. Unlike the sci-fi robo-ball it descended from, the Ollie has a cylindrical form factor, spinning and whirring around like a turbocharged roll of toilet paper. It can hit a max speed of 14 mph and drift around corners.

It comes with attachable (colorful) wheel covers to help it dig into rougher terrain, like dirt. A plastic ramp, which you can purchase separately, can help launch the Ollie more than six feet into the air. During a demo, Orbotix CTO Ian Bernstein said that the Ollie was stress tested from drops that are a few feet higher. So feel free to slam it into stuff; its polycarbonate shell was designed for durability.

One of the cooler aspects of the Ollie is that, like the Sphero, you will eventually be able to program it to light up, and even follow choreography that you pre-program yourself. (Spin in place! Then go forward for six seconds. Then spin again, but glow bright green!) When that feature is coming is unclear, but I'm told it's on the way. The tricks, however—and there are lots of them—are much cooler in person. You can also get the Ollie in limited edition goth-y black.

The "Darkside" Ollie and the original Ollie.

It does have a few minor drawbacks. Since you have to control it with your phone or tablet, it tethers to your gadget via Bluetooth Smart (which is better, more energy-efficient version of Bluetooth) with a maximum range of 100 feet. That's not quite enough to program the Ollie to walk your chihuahua around the block when you're lying face down on your couch, but it's a fun toy that—in the right set of curious hands—should provide hours of IRL entertainment. Who knows? Maybe it'll even get a few kids interested in programming.

The Ollie is $99. You can order one at GoSphero.com.

[Photo: courtesy of Orbotix]

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