My friend asked for my opinion on the New Yorker article about the Sphero. Here is what I wrote.
A few thoughts: first, I felt the author failed to realize the importance of Logo as the predecessor to educational robotics and dismissed it as a dreary exercise that a few of us adults vaguely remember. My work with the LogoTurtle my friends Brian, Erik, and I invented has been revolutionary, in my mind, of how a minority student can make use of powerful tools that do not attempt to simplify themselves in the name of being "friendly." Please see here:
The Sphero is definitely a toy and its company and Disney have found a unique niche in the education market because clever teachers have found ways to incorporate them in mundane to very, very clever ways to improve their curriculum and to make the learning more student driven. Sphero has helped by providing curriculum, worksheets (ugh), and actual robots to schools. But in the end they are a toy company and need to carefully balance education and profit.
I was very intrigued by the hint of their future project and bots that interact with you: I have been thinking about this quite a bit on the software level as of late.
For my money with middle schoolers on up to adults I would have them build LogoTurtles. However, as we know, I operate on an "easy is for wimps" level. I think the Sphero is a harmless addition to the classroom. It gets students programming, is engaging, and if the teachers get out of the way the students can do some truly wonderful things because of its polished package.