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Sphero’s new toy is a chatty Spider-Man

Sphero continues its partnership with Disney today, with the launch of a new toy based on the Marvel superhero Spider-Man. But where BB-8 and Lightning McQueen could move around the room, Spider-Man is more stationary — his real power involves holding conversations.

The simplest thing this Spider-Man can do is tell jokes — he seems to have an infinite simply of eye-rollers. If you just ask him to chat, he’ll start a conversation about random topics like school or dating. And as Sphero co-founder and Chief Software Architect Adam Wilson put it, he’s also “a storyteller,” describing his adventures to kids and asking them to participate in key moments.

You can see a few of my interactions with Spider-Man in the video above. Users are encouraged to try out different prompts and discover new modes of interaction — though there were plenty of times where Spider-Man would answer a different question from the one I asked, or he would just sit there silently.

The toy includes expressive LCD eyes, a microphone, a speaker and an accelerometer — so he’ll offer enthusiastic commentary if you pick him up and pretend to fight with him. There’s even an infrared sensor, allowing Spider-Man to go into “guard mode,” warning off any intruders who enter his owner’s bedroom.

Sphero's Spider-Man

Aside from using third-party speech recognition technology, Wilson said Spider-Man’s conversational engine was built “from scratch” — in essence, he’s “a full Android device” inside a superhero-shaped toy. (While your main interactions will be through voice, you’ll also need either an iOS or an Android app to control him.)

Wilson also emphasized the importance of privacy and security. He said Spider-Man is only listening when the spider on his chest lights up, and the user’s voice is never stored or shared. (The security measures are certified by AppliedTrust.)

It’s worth noting that while Spider-Man’s launch is timed to just a few weeks before the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 7, he isn’t supposed to represent the movie version of the character, and he’s not voiced by Homecoming actor Tom Holland. (The fact that Homecoming will be distributed by Sony Pictures, not Disney, may have something to do with the toy’s lack of movie ties.) Still, Wilson said this Spider-Man comes with more than “100 comic books worth of content” and will also offer “tons of Easter Eggs.”

As for price, the toy costs $149.99.

This Spider-Man does whatever a spider-companion can do

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What if your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man could spend less time out fighting crime and more time at home with you?

That’s the concept behind Sphero’s latest Disney/Marvel Universe-inspired toy, the Spider-Man Interactive App-enabled Superhero. It’s a tabletop companion that responds to your voice, tells stories, virtually joins you on missions, and can watch over your room.

Even though he’s a superhero, this Spider-Man has a decidedly Funko-like figure (giant head, squat physique) and a rubberized body. Its stumpy arms are poseable, but he’s otherwise immobile. It is rechargeable so you can take it out on your own little Spider-Man-inspired adventures.

The only thing that moves on this Spider-Man are his arms.

The only thing that moves on this Spider-Man are his arms.

Image: Lance Ulanoff/mashable

Inside, though, is an Android-based system, motion sensors, a speaker just below his Spider-Man logo button, microphones, and expressive LCD-based Spidey eyes.

The toy companion’s launch is timed to coincide with the release of the new Spider-Man: Homecoming movie franchise reboot. Aside from the eyes and web-slinger gear on its wrist, though, the toy is wearing a classic Spider-Man costume.

Designed for a night table or desktop (he can be used as an alarm clock), Sphero’s Spider-Man will spend most of its existence on its included charging base, waiting for you to press the Spider-Man logo on its chest. Once you do that, the logo lights up and microphones listen for key words and phrases, like “What’s the crime report?” “Let’s fight some bad guys,” “Make me laugh,” and “Tell me a story.” And Spider-Man has many tales to tell. Sphero packed it with over 100 comic books’ worth of stories and adventures, and Spider-Man keeps track of what he’s told you and where in the action you left off. Sphero representatives told me the toy won’t be repeating itself.

The interactive Spider-Man comes with this charging base.

The interactive Spider-Man comes with this charging base.

Image: lance Ulanoff/mashable

There’s also an associated app that lets you create your own superhero name and abilities and helps you keep track of which bad guys you’ve fought.

Inside the app, you choose your name from a two-part word wheel, where you make up combos like “Stealth Wolf” or “Ultimate Shark.” You get the same two-word choice system for your super power. During setup, I chose the name “Colossal King” and “Super Fists” as my super power. You can update your alias and powers at any time.

Don't worry about Interactive Spider-Man using your child's real name. It lets her pick a superhero alias.

Don’t worry about Interactive Spider-Man using your child’s real name. It lets her pick a superhero alias.

Image: Sphero

And you get to add a crazy super power.

And you get to add a crazy super power.

Image: Sphero

When I connected the app to Spider-Man (you just hold the phone near Spider-Man), he immediately used my name and asked me if I was royal by birth. He also noted my super power and said he wondered why my hands were big and red. 

Put simply, this is a toy with intelligence.

You can pick it up and move it around and, because of the accelerometer, it will react. I turned Interactive Spider-Man upside down and it said. “Unhand me, you fiend,” and when I shook it, he said “Shake your super hero booty.” 

Spider-Man's charging port is built into his foot.

Spider-Man’s charging port is built into his foot.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

The Interactive Spider-Man never had trouble hearing me, even when I spoke softly, and I never had difficulty hearing or understanding the sound coming out of the single speaker in his belly. Volume is controlled via the app.

Spider-Man’s youthful voice is always accompanied by eye animations that make it look like he’s happy, sad, or amused.

There’s no camera, but Spider-Man can use its infrared motion sensor to detect movement, In sentry mode, which you activate by double-pressing the logo button and saying “Activate guard mode,” Spider-Man says things like, “Freeze, knucklehead, you’re not allowed in here.” You turn off this mode by telling Spider-Man to “Stand down.”

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All this interaction and engagement might make you nervous, but Sphero spent a lot of time thinking about privacy. That’s why there isn’t a camera and Spider-Man isn’t always listening. You must press the Spider-Man logo button to turn on the microphone, and the logo is always lit when the toy is listening.

Sphero’s interactive Spider-Man is Wi-Fi connected, but only for content updates. Whatever you tell it is encrypted and, as soon as Spider-Man has completed the associated voice task, the data is, according to Sphero, discarded.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/MASHABLE

Spider-Man is also full of hidden Easter eggs. Every time you push its button, Spider-Man will respond, but if you keep pressing, he may threaten to reset. He even appears to do so, but it’s a ruse. Not sure if kids will find that entertaining or frustrating. I suggest shaking him a lot to see what happens.

In general, though, this could be the perfect companion for a Spider-Man-obsessed 8 year-old (or older) who wants wants to live the Spidey lifestyle with all the entertainment and activity value, but none of the real-world risks.

Sphero’s Interactive Spider-Man goes on sale Thursday for $149.

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Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man Ozobots are on the way


Ozobot, a golf-ball sized toy robot that helps kids learn to code, will be available in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man characters as of this summer. Evollve Inc., which makes the Ozobot, has previously offered character skins from Disney’s Marvel Avengers, including Iron Man and Captain America.

The startup’s CEO Nader Hamda said: “We want to inspire kids to learn to create with technology and not just to consume it. Licensing helps us engage with a mass population and connect with kids who may not already have an interest in technology.”

Ozobots can follow the lines that kids draw on white paper with regular markers. Certain colors send a command to the Ozobot to spin, speak or flash lights. Kids string together lines like they would write lines of code. The toy robots can work offline but users have the option to control them through the Ozobot mobile app. Within that app, users can write programs to control their own, or each other’s robots.

The company’s Guardian of the Galaxy Starter Pack and Spider-Man Starter Kit will cost $59.95. Each pack includes an Ozobot Bit (the basic robot), 2 character skins, a book of coloring and coding activities, markers, stickers, a USB charging cable and Marvel-themed “pop-outs.” They will launch officially at Disney’s D23 Expo on July 14 in Anaheim, Calif.

Ozobot Guardians of the Galaxy Starter Kit with Groot and Rocket character skins.

Educators use Ozobot to teach coding and art classes, of course, but to other subject matter, too. For example, math teachers use Ozobot to teach kids to use coordinates and quadrants on a graph; and history and geography teachers ask kids to use Ozobot to plot a route across maps, stopping where important events happened or different features of the land can be seen.

While common in the toy industry, licensing has not been the preferred strategy among venture-funded edtech startups. Ozobot peers and competitors like Dash & Dot, MakeblockCubetto, Goldieblox and Roominate, have stuck to their own homegrown brands.

But licensing is working for Evollve Inc. The company has sold 1 million of its Ozobots already, and is working with about 5,000 schools in the US directly, as well as hundreds of others in South Korea and France, Hamda said.

Ozobot also recently brought in two new c-suite execs, Kim Salzer who was formerly the CMO of Hyperloop One, and ex-Anki Chief Creative Officer Joby Otero. They are now working at Ozobot as CMO and Chief Product Officer respectively.