Control a Sphero RVR with bluetooth joypad

A while back I contributed to the Sphero RVR Kickstarter project. It arrived in time for Christmas allowing me to gift it to my daughter. Ostensibly this was a fun educational present for her, but it also doubled up as a present to myself. Everyone’s a winner.

The RVR itself is an incredibly solid device and without a doubt the highest quality item I’ve received from a Kickstarter.

I did have some difficulties charging the battery (a dodgy connection on the battery, it seems), and after a chat with Sphero’s responsive support they sent another unit.

Anyway, being so inclined I attached a Raspberry Pi to the mounting plate and connected it to the RVR with a hand-built serial cable. I then attached a PiCamera and a Pimoroni Speaker pHAT to the Raspberry Pi. Combined with a USB C cable for power, it’s a neat and self-contained setup (excepting the slight pin bending in attaching the roll cage).

Sphero does provide an iOS app to control the RVR, but I wanted a little more control.

To this end I decided to use a bluetooth joypad, specifically an 8bitdo SF30 Pro, to control the RVR and drive it around. The camera can then display video on a screen, the speaker allows sounds to be played, and the joypad buttons change the LED colours.

Thanks to the availability of several Python libraries this was all fairly straightforward. I’m not especially proficient with Python, and this was a good opportunity to practice a bit more.

It’s surprisingly controllable and my daughter has great fun building LEGO carts and attaching them to the RVR, and then driving her three Yoshi toys around.

Anyway, it’s all here on Github:

And a video!

13 Minutes To The Moon

Following on the space theme, I’ve been enjoying the 13 Minutes To The Moon podcast from the BBC. It focuses on the last 13 minutes of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and takes you through what was going on, and how everything came about.

As someone who grew up after the moon landing it’s something I took for granted. After listening to the podcast I realised how little I actually knew outside of the popular sound bites.

I can’t embed the podcast directly, but here’s the Hans Zimmer theme tune.

Anyway, the podcast is well worth a listen. I’m now looking forward to watching the new Apollo 11 documentary:

Note to self: don’t read the YouTube comments on moon landing videos.

Book Of Dreams

If you’re from the UK then you’ve undoubtedly run across Argos at some point in your life. For the unfamiliar they’re a nationwide chain of shops where you go inside, pick items from a catalogue, and have the items brought to you from a warehouse.

They recently released all their old catalogues. As I’m sure many people did, I spent a lot of time paging through these things to see what the ‘latest’ toys and gadgets were.

I use the term ‘latest’ loosely – these were safe mainstream goods. However, this kind of information was often as good as it got.

The site isn’t easy to use, but if you have the patience you can dig out gems such as these from 1983:

The very next year this had been reduced to:

It’s easy to see what was and wasn’t selling.

As a kid at the time this really was a book of dreams.