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Blended Bites Blog

Mars Sphero Rovers

Jessica Anderson

Written by members of the 2014-15 astronomy class: Justin, Hunter, Heather, Jake, Schelby, and Mrs. Anderson

As we begin to implement the NGSS standards into science curriculum, incorporating STEM into all content areas of science becomes increasingly important. As a result, during Hour of Code week our astronomy class completed an activity called Mars Sphero Rovers. The purpose of this activity was to learn about the terrain of Mars, past and present rover missions, and program our rovers (the Sphero balls disguised as rovers) to complete a collection mission.   
Before we built the rovers, we had to find out how the Spheros moved and handled. The first thing we had to do was download the app (Sphero Drive) so we could drive them. After we started playing with them, we couldn't stop! We spent the entire period driving them around. We even held a race through an improvised obstacle course taking up most of the first floor hallway.
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Designing a rover for the Sphero ball was very challenging because the balls are spherical. The design took careful planning because the Sphero didn't use practical axles and wheels. We had to approach the rovers with a different perspective because they were like no other mode of transportation. We had to take friction and rotation into consideration when we were designing these rovers. We used material around the classroom like popsicle sticks, masking tape, and red solo cups to design our rovers.

Working on our rover designs.

One of the rovers around a Sphero ball. Designed by Justin
Using the green screen to make our commercials
After designing our rovers we created commercials to promote our rovers. We were tasked with selling our rover design and why it should be used as the rover to explore Mars. We used the DoInk app and a green screen to create our commercials.

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Example of what our rovers look like with the green screen.
After we created our commercials, we created a course similar to the terrain of Mars. Some of the objects we used to make the obstacles on Mars were rocks/fossils (samples we picked up) and boards/wood (to represent inclines on Mars’s surface). We also used one of our astronomy books for a ramp. The course was set up with a total of 12 obstacles to represent what a real rover on Mars (not even close in comparison) would have to navigate through.  Our obstacle course was set up in the junior hallway of the school where we attend. We set up the course 5-6 times before we had completed everything we needed to accomplish. 
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As we started to program the Sphero, we came across many challenges. One of the challenges was consistency in calibration. As a result, we had to navigate the obstacles many times before we were able to accurately drive it. As we programmed the Spheros, we had to think about the amount of time the ball rolled in a certain direction and the speed.  It seemed like the ball would often go in the wrong direction or roll too far even though the settings hadn’t changed. After many trials, we realized we needed to put stops (pauses) into our program so the ball wouldn't roll too far. We also discovered that after each run we had to recalibrate the Sphero so it would accurately navigate the terrain.

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To collect data from our course, we ran numerous trial runs to record time and efficiency of the rover through the course. We took the fastest, most efficient rover designs to use for the final course run. With the final runs, we averaged the times of the rover.
Now that we are finished with the project, we realize that programming a Sphero is harder than we expected. However, we had a lot of fun and enjoyed the project. Please let us know if you have any questions about our project.

Here are a few videos of our experiences:

  1. Sphero with rover "attached" video
  2. Programming the Spheros
  3. Rover "picking" up samples
  4. Programming Spheros in a figure 8

You can purchase your Sphero here