How to Use a Sphero Mini Sensor Board for First Year Physics Labs

Ken,

Thanks for this. The sampling rate IS THE PROBLEM that I have been talking to Sphero about all along. And yes, I had actually started working with an Arduino Nano 33 BLE and even did some quick and dirty efforts. But I stopped because of your “DIY” comments at the end of the post.

I see you deleted the post. Hey, I don’t want to ask you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but it would be a huge benefit if you would post this, just as is (including the first two paragraphs below) so that I can use that as ammunition with the technical guys at Sphero.

I hope that this doesn’t make you lost interest in this—your input is EXACTLY the type that I am looking for help with.

John

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Hey folks - two quick things. First, it’s awesome that you’re taking advantage of our technology to help students learn. Many thanks to John for all the hard work!

Second, we don’t have any issue with you discussing the technology here (including the specific parts). We want you to be as successful as possible, and we want to get your feedback. We have lots of product objectives to achieve over the coming years, so we have to prioritize which opportunities to tackle first. But we’re always interested to hear what’s working and what could work better.

Keep inspiring the creators of tomorrow :slight_smile:

Brian, thanks for your clarification on your company’s position on Community Forum discussions of Sphero technology details. It is much appreciated and it will make progress much easier.

For background, Brian is VP of Software Engineering at Sphero. The reason for his post is that one of you had raised a concern about infringement of Sphero intellectual property. Thank you Brian, for laying that problem to rest.

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Reposting this having deleted it previously (apologies): I had a look at the Sphero mini board. It’s based around an nRF52832 SoC (System on a Chip) produced by Nordic Semiconductor. (IC itself is printed “N52832”). This is an Arm Cortex M4 microcontroller with some nice bells and whistles – marketed as a “Versatile Bluetooth 5.3” SoC. The core runs at 64 MHz, & includes a floating point unit, at least 32K of immediate RAM + a few hundred K of cache. The analog inputs (ADCs) are 12 bit. To me that set of features makes it seem like a very nice little chip and should have a lot of potential / in theory ought to be easily capable of pretty high sampling rates and good data quality (relative to the needs of an educational intro physics lab).

I have no experience with Spheros but if the sampling rate is the issue at the moment then we have to guess it’s either something to do with the SDK or Bluetooth rate limit (in other words, the communications channel to the device), or maybe it’s a limit of the firmware on the Sphero device itself (which if that’s the case, would mean an alternate firmware might be needed to improve the sampling rate.) As a sidenote, somewhat off topic given this is a Sphero forum, there is a vendor (Sparkfun) that offers an arduino-compatible development board for the same chip, for electronics hobbyists & tinkerers.

Hi John,

Thank you so much for putting time into this project and reaching out. Successful creative projects like yours are a silver lining to the challenges of the last couple of years.

We would love to have one of your kits for experimentation at Saigon South International School. So many possibilities for attaching this to different devices and experimenting. The one that comes to mind first is actually this project from a couple of years ago.

Thank you also for your kind words about my API work. It’s so wonderful having a community of people sharing their ideas.

Best regards,
Evan

For the sake of other readers, let me describe the circumstances which brought Evan Weinberg at the Saigon South International School to my attention. Earlier this week, I discovered Evan’s excellent work on the Sphero RVR SDK on the neighboring Sphero Community Blog site CircuitPython Boards & RVR. I immediately sent Evan an invitation and I am delighted that he accepted!

Dear Evan,
I am VERY excited that you want to get involved with us. When I started this project at the beginning of Covid, I spent some time fiddling with an Arduino Nano 33 BLE Sense for the remote labs. I quickly realized that even if I got it working, the lack of a student-friendly GUI and just the sheer need to get 36 students up and running made me turn to the Sphero Mini. I look forward to seeing what you might be able to do with CircuitPython and the Sphero Mini!

Welcome to the community!
John

Hi John,

We interested in your beta testing Kit. I teach regents physics in NYC at Townsend Harris High School. It looks we could use it here.

Townsend Harris High School
Flushing, NY

John,

Excellent! Great to hear from you!

Welcome to the community. I’ll ship your lab kit tomorrow morning.

John

Hi @kmckenzie,

The Mini firmware does support higher sampling rates, but the bottleneck is the performance of host device bluetooth stacks. Many schools use low-end devices for budgetary reasons, which cannot handle high sensor streaming data rates.

Jim

Hello
This is my first posting to this community forum.
The sphero kit seems to be a great idea for my physics class curriculum.
I am looking forward to seeing the kit and evaluating it for possible integration into my electricity and magnetism physics class.
Eugene

I almost forgot. I am a physics instruction at a magnate school for science and math. I would like to request a kit for evaluation.
Thank you
Eugene

Hi Eugene,

Great. Welcome to the Community! I’ll get your lab kit in the mail tomorrow.

John

Note: Eugene is on the faculty at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, a STEM magnet residential high school in Limestone, Maine.

Hello! My name is Jennie Cooke and I am the science department chair at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall, a high school in Waltham, MA. We are currently revamping our 9th-grade physical science & engineering curriculum and would love to explore how the Sphero minis might enhance learning and creative exploration for our students.
Thank you!
Jennie

Hi Jennie,
Excellent! Welcome to our growing community! I’ll get your lab kit in the mail tomorrow.

Regards,
John

Current Status of this Project

I want to take this opportunity to summarize where we are in phase one, and to tell you about a video that I just posted that relates to the second phase.

As noted below, we are coming close to the end of the first phase of this project which is the distribution of the lab kits. The second phase will be to see what you folks in the community will do with them! I have had informal reports from several groups that have had experience with the sensor board, but not enough for them to report anything here on the forum. Soon, I hope!

Lab Kit Distributions

As of today, I have distributed 23 lab kits to the users below. I have a remaining inventory of 18 lab kits left. My plan is to distribute about a dozen of those in the coming weeks, and I will keep the remaining half dozen for use here at Furman. I have shipped a lab kit to college and high school physics teachers at

  • Avon Old Farm Schools — Avon, Connecticut
  • Chapel Hill Chauncy Hall School — Waltham, Massachusetts
  • Colorado State University (Little Shop of Physics)
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University
  • Governor’s School for Science & Technology — Hampton, Virginia
  • Hamilton College
  • Maine School for Science and Mathematics — Limestone, Maine
  • Marianapolis Preparatory School — Thompson, Connecticut
  • Ransom Everglades School — Miami, Florida
  • Roper Mountain Science Center — South Carolina
  • Saigon South International School — Vietnam
  • South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics — Hartsville, South Carolina
  • Suffield Academy — Suffield, Connecticut
  • Stuyvesant High School — New York City
  • Tabor Academy — Marion, Massachusetts
  • Townsend Harris High School —Flushing, New York
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Massachusetts Boston
  • University of South Florida St. Petersburg
  • University of Wyoming
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Worcester Academy — Worcester, Massachusetts

New Video Posted

I just posted a new video Sphero Mini Sensor Board Rolling Down A Shallow Cone on the Furman Physics YouTube Channel. This is a demonstration that uses all three axes (roll, pitch, yaw) of the sensor board gyroscope to illustrate the vector velocity of a rolling sphere. I am hoping that this might seed some interest in the community as we enter the second phase of the project.

Cheers,

John

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Hi John,

I would like to receive the Sphero Lab Kit to discover what I can do with it. Please send it to the address below… I am going to teach online physics labs using IOLABS so it will be interesting to discover a new system and see what is possible.

Thanks,
Sujata KrishnaDepartment of Physics
2001 Museum Road
P.O. Box 118440
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-8440

Hi Sujata,
Welcome to the community! I very much look forward to learning about your experience with the iOLab system as well as the Sphero Lab Sensor Board. Please note that in its present configuration, the sampling rate of the Sphero sensor is much slower than the iOLab. See the discussion here in the Forum starting on Feb 14 and continuing into mid-March. I am hoping that we can soon increase the sampling rate.

I won’t be able to ship your Lab Kit until early next week–I’ll send you an e-mail with the tracking number when it ships.

Thanks for your interest!

John

Hello, John,
I would love to receive a Sphero Mini kit to test out the labs for our introductory physics students at Baylor. This is my favorite type of learning activity.
Best wishes,
Lorin Matthews

Hi Lorin,

I am delighted to welcome a fellow Texan and a fellow plasma physicist to the community! Yours will be the first Sphero Lab Kit sent to the Lone Star State. Excellent! I’ll ship your kit early next week.

Regards,
John


Note: Lorin is the Chair of the Physics Department at Baylor.

LSU would like to get a Sphero Lab Kit. Thanks for your offer. – Dana Browne, LSU Physics & Astronomy