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The Sphero ball in action.
The Sphero ball in action. Image: Sohero.

You might have seen Sphero, a toy robotics company, in the news recently. Their programmable robotic ball was recently used by the creators of the newest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to design the epic saga’s newest droid.

It turns out that Microsoft is leveraging the developer-friendly robotic ball in a unique way, as well.

As part of a demonstration project this summer, student developers involved in the Microsoft Student Partner (MSP) program are combining the Sphero ball with Microsoft technology such as Azure, Windows Phone, or an Xbox controller to create fun and useful apps and games.

The MSP program is made up of 100 students at colleges and universities across the country who demonstrate and spread the word about Microsoft technology to other students.

Matt Secord, MSP program manager, said he set up the Sphero project to help the students lead by example, allowing them to integrate technology in cool, new, and interesting ways.

“We definitely want to make it interactive,” Secord said. He hopes that the work the students are doing will “inspire some other student developers that are out there to go out, and try to think outside the box and build cool, different things using multiple different technologies. You don’t have to [stay] within the boundaries of Microsoft, Android, whatever it might be.”

Three weeks ago, Secord put 10 of his brightest student partners (MSPs) to work on Sphero projects of their own choosing. These students have tackled everything from Sphero-based tap of war (like tug of war), to Sphero GPS, to Sphero Morse code communications. They will continue their projects until the end of the month.

To follow their work more closely, check out the Microsoft student developer blog, the MSP GitHub repository, or the MSPs’ profiles on Hackster.io (linked below).

GeekWire connected with three MSP student developers to find out more about their projects.

Image via blogs.msdn.com
Images via blogs.msdn.com

Jacen Sherman, Tap of War: This project brings today’s technology to the age-old game of Tug of War. Players click as fast as they can, trying to “out-click” their opponent and get the Sphero ball to roll onto their own side.

“I wanted more experience combining Microsoft Azure with other development tools. I think this will help me as an MSP to better understand and teach Azure integration down the line,” Sherman said. “I am also a designer, so I chose a game that would let me explore that area as well. I find it really interesting to blur the line between design and code, which this project lets me do.”

Image via blogs.msdn.com

Tony Carmalitano, Sphero Drive: This project allows users to connect to, drive, and direct the Sphero ball using an Xbox One controller.

“I felt my project would be a great way for younger children to engage with the Sphero robot without being handed a $200+ phone/tablet,” he said. “I’m the oldest of six – soon to be the oldest of seven – children, so growing up I would say I got a pretty good idea of how quickly things can break around younger ones.”

Image via blogs.msdn.com

Tae Hong Min, Project Elixia: This app asks users to upload a file of music, and then creates a game that is designed to be played along to the uploaded music. Using an electromagnetic armband, players must direct the Sphero ball’s movement in response to colors (indicating directions) that shift with the music.

“I’ve always had a passion for music and video games,” he said. “I thought that this would be the perfect chance to try integrating both of my interests together with the Sphero and MYO. It’s been fun developing my app so far because as a lover of challenges, I did hit some major roadblocks along the way that forced me to pivot my direction at times.”

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