Kevin Chan, a game developer and robotics enthusiast, has developed the Sphero Companion App. With just your voice, you can hold a conversation with Sphero as well control its movements. Here’s a look at the app working with the Sphero SPRK Edition.
With the large number of educational robots entering the market, Chan feels that one way to get kids interested in robotics is by making them more companion-like and friendly. What child doesn’t want a friend that they can carry around in their pocket and talk to whenever they want? Chan hopes to expand the app’s functionality and enable it to learn even more commands and communication methods. For example, right now it can only learn the user’s name, but he imagines it storing much more information during conversations. When asked about the app, Chan said,
I also had Sphero paraphrase back to you what he heard, so the user knows that Sphero really understood what was said. I didn’t want Sphero to be a dumb robot you would just order around, so I tried to give Sphero some personality when he responds to the things that he hears.
The Sphero Companion App was developed using the Unity game engine. Sphero provides a Unity SDK, which enables communication between the Sphero iOS and Android apps for developers. The communication piece (voice recognition and synthesis) is all done on the Android phone. So, when using the app the user has to speak into the phone and the voice comes out of the phone. However, Chan added the lights and motion to Sphero to make it appear as if Sphero were really communicating with the user. Chan has previous experience with using speech recognition, and this project took him only two weekends to develop. The Sphero Companion App is compatible with Android 4.0 and later versions.
Chan’s app is Android-based and is compatible with any Sphero product that the Unity SDK supports. Currently, those are Sphero, Sphero 2.0, and Sphero SPRK Edition. He hopes to create an iOS equivalent in the future, but more work would need to be done with the speech recognition software in order for this to happen.
When asked if he would like for Sphero to add a similar speech recognition feature to the SPRK app, Chan replied,
Potentially, I think some voice functionality could be integrated into SPRK. For example there could be a new “Speak” action that could enable Sphero to speak and pulse its lights when speaking… That would give Sphero another type of action that he could perform. Kids could program conversations and skits that they could perform with Sphero!
With products like Buddy and Jibo making a name for themselves, Kevin Chan’s vision for companion robots is not far away. Sphero is the perfect robot to get kids excited about robotics, and the Sphero Companion App is a great tool for achieving this goal. Chan’s inspiration for the app was one of his other projects, MobBob. MobBob is an adorable, 3D-printed, bidepal companion robot which uses speech recognition to communicate with users.