Apple Watch Controls Sphero Robot Ball

An engineer uses an Apple Watch to control a Sphero robot ball using hand gestures.

Is there a bigger Star Wars: The Force Awakens fan than Sphero? Thanks to the BB-8 Droid, which is made by Sphero and is one of the hottest tech toys out there, the Boulder, Colo.-based company has certainly capitalized on the popularity of the latest Star Wars installment.

Sphero is looking to continue this momentum with its Force Band, a Star Wars-themed wearable that will let you use hand gestures to control the BB-8 the droid. The Force Band will be out later in 2016.

But Dmytro Vlasenko, an engineer at ELEKS, had another idea: why use an additional device when you already have Apple Watch? So the fine folks at ELEKS developed an app that allows you to use hand gestures to control Sphero with an Apple Watch. ELEKS has a detailed look at the project here and posted all of the code to GitHub, but here’s the gist of what they did:

  • Extract the accelerometer data from Apple Watch
  • Use that data to determine the position of the watch relative to the ground
  • Send the corresponding movement action to an iPhone
  • Use Sphero’s SDK to send the command from an iPhone to Sphero
And here’s a break down of the hand gestures and their corresponding movements:
  • Wrist is parallel to the ground - Sphero moves forward
  • Wrist is pointing to the ground - Sphero moves backward
  • Wrist is pointing to the sky - Sphero stops moving
  • Wrist is parallel to the ground and rotated 90 degrees clockwise - Sphero moves right
  • Wrist is parallel to the ground and rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise - Sphero moves left

Cool stuff. One thing ELEKS couldn’t do was “use Bluetooth to send the signal directly from the smartwatch to Sphero. That is why we used the basic approach for the iPhone – Apple Watch communication. Maybe the next release of Apple Watch OS will give us better opportunities. By the way, Android has no such issue.”

Watch the GIF below to see the Apple Watch control Sphero:

Back in Dec. 2015, ELEKS posted a video where they used Microsoft Kinect to enable hand-gesture control of Sphero 2.0. More details of that project can be found here.



About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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