The Sphero: Teaching Kids STEAM Skills

Human hand and robot's hand hovering around a blue electric ball

Your elementary school student has another science fair, and you dutifully attend expecting the standard baking soda volcanos and diagrams of the solar system that kids in your day made. Instead, you are greeted by what looks like a scene from the future. Robots of all shapes and sizes spin, walk and play music with children under 10 at the controls. As you wonder at the advancement of education, a small robotic ball rolls up to your feet, changes color three times and then rolls away again. That little guy is the Sphero.

What Is Happening in Education?

A lot has changed since the days of collecting leaves and flowers or dropping eggs from balconies. While these age-old lessons in ecology and physics are still essential and taught in schools, the focus of education has shifted to include STEAM skills.

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. These are areas that are growing every day as society advances. The skills they embody are the ones that the next generation will use the most.

The Advent of Educational Robotics

With STEAM skills becoming increasingly more in demand, the toy industry began looking towards filling the need for toys that taught those skills. Sphero — originally called Orbitix — began designing their ball-shaped programmable robot to fill that very niche. After a successful campaign on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, they launched their first Sphero app-controlled robotic ball in 2010.

It wasn’t long before other companies followed suit. Today, there are several manufacturers that make robotic toys that teach kids valuable STEAM skills. They include:

  • LEGO
  • Makeblock
  • WowWee
  • Anki
  • Wonder Workshop
  • Ozobot
  • Vortex

Schools and industrious parents are snatching up tools like the Sphero and its competitors. For instance, Trail Ridge Middle School near Sphero’s base in Denver, Colorado was highlighted in a New Yorker article for their use of iPads and Spheros to teach these STEAM skills.

What They Do

The Sphero specifically is a versatile little guy. It’s designed to grow with the student’s understanding of those STEAM skills. From pushing colors to get the Sphero to move, to write a full program for the robot ball using a smartphone or iPad, users can make the Sphero do all kinds of interesting things.

They can do more than just rolling around and changing colors. Kids — or adults learning to code — can program the Sphero to follow a specific path, complete a set of commands and are even able to design their own control app.

Sphero has its very own YouTube channel where you can see everything that’s possible with the versatile device. You can check out a Sphero in action there or in the clip below from the QuadSquad, four kids who review and play with items online.

Special Features of The Sphero

Sphero entered into an agreement with Disney in 2015. From that partnership, Sphero produced several branded programmable robots including its popular BB8 model. Looking like the robot from the second set of Star Wars movies, this cute little guy was fully programmable like all Spheros are.

The Future of Robotic Toys

Development of the Sphero and other toys like it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, Sphero listed their new incarnation, the Sphero RVR, on Kickstarter in 2018 and earned more than a million dollars towards its launch.

It’s not alone though. A company called Zoetic AI listed its programmable robotic kitty they call Kiki on the popular crowdfunding site. So does SB Components Ltd. Their offering, STEM:BIT is a programmable block kit. Robotiky is another programmable robotic toy for children, and it raised £25,000.

 There’s no doubt that learning STEAM skills is important to the future of kids. These types of programmable robotic toys make teaching children these skills simple and fun. This makes them a vital product on the marketplace that the world is likely to see more of in the future.

Walkman

Walkman and cassette tapes

With so many people walking around immersed in their smartphones or lost in an auditory world of their own via a pair of earbuds, it’s hard to remember (or imagine, depending on your age) a time when nothing like that existed. It wasn’t until about 1980 when it became possible for the average person to carry a device with them in public that they could use as a private form of entertainment. The first device to make that possible was the Walkman.

History of the Walkman

The co-founders of Sony, Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, were the inventors of the Walkman. Sony originally introduced the device as the Sound-About in the United States and the Stowaway in the United Kingdom. Eventually, they decided on calling it Walkman, a play on the name of a small Sony tape recorder called the Pressman.

It used to be that manufacturers marketed small cassette recorders and players to journalists, which is evident in the name of the Pressman. But then, in what became a turning point in the history of music players, Sony realized the potential of marketing a portable cassette player to ordinary consumers. They removed the record function from the Pressman to make the device smaller and set out to reach music lovers of the world with a new product.

The Walkman’s Rapturous Success

Sony was skeptical that their new offering would be a success; they doubted that anyone would want a tape player that didn’t also record. There was also a perception that people wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing headphones in public; it just wasn’t done at the time.

The Walkman made its debut in Japan on July 1, 1979, priced at about $150, and experienced explosive success right away. Sony sold more than 50,000 units in two months, far surpassing their expectation of 5,000 units a month. The original model was the Sony Walkman TPS L2. The portable cassette player was blue and silver, weighed 14 ounces and came with a leather carrying case. It also featured two headphone jacks so two people could listen at the same time. It ran on two AA batteries and didn’t have an external speaker. Sony went on to sell nearly 400 million of them in its various forms.

The Walkman’s Influence

With the Walkman’s huge success, brands like Aiwa, Panasonic and Toshiba entered the portable cassette player market, and by 1983, cassette tapes started to outsell vinyl records. The Walkman helped power the fitness craze of the 80s. It’s believed that the significant increase in the number of people who reported walking outdoors for exercise was due to the availability of Walkman cassette players.

Sony and other makers continually developed their personal listening devices, adding AM/FM receivers and putting out products that ran on solar power or were water-resistant. When compact discs arrived in 1982, Sony adapted and created portable CD players under the name of Discman. The company later went on to sell MiniDisc players and Walkman-branded MP3 players, phones and more.

While other brands may have surpassed the technology of Sony’s Walkman, the original Walkman is still revered as the ancestor of our current listening devices. As the first personal portable music player, it revolutionized the way we listen to music. And who knows? Vinyl has made a comeback, and some (perhaps overly optimistically) predict it might be the cassette tape’s turn next. Someday soon, you might be strutting down the street with a Walkman cassette player clipped to your belt. In any case, the Walkman lives on.

Apple iWatch

Man hand with Apple iWatch

Have you ever been at an event and desperately wanted to check your email inconspicuously? Or, have you ever been running and didn’t want to get out your phone to open your app to see your progress? Apple recognized these problems and developed a solution — a wearable device that would combine the sleekness of your watch with the capabilities of your phone.

What is the Apple iWatch?

The Apple iWatch is a digital watch that provides users with the time, delivers notifications from their phone, and helps focus on health and fitness capabilities.

Introducing the Apple iWatch

The Apple iWatch was introduced as a new product on April 24, 2015. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook introduced it as the “next chapter in Apple history.”

The watch came out four years after Apples founder Steve Jobs passed away. However, its been said that Steve Jobs was aware of the Apple iWatch’s product conception.

Apple iWatch silver casing with a black band showing activity on screen
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Apple iWatch Capabilities

When the Apple iWatch was announced in 2015, it was priced at $349. The justification for such a high cost came from the watch’s many unique features and capabilities.

  • It receives calls and accepts texts from your iPhone and suggests quick responses for the texts.
  • It includes an accelerometer that counts your steps and measures your body’s activity, so you can keep track of calories burned.
  • The back of the watch has a custom heart rate sensor.
  • You can use your watch to access Apple Maps and ask Siri for directions.
  • You can use Apple Pay on your watch.
  • You can stream Apple Music and Apple Podcasts from your watch, even while you’re away from your phone.

History of Apple iWatch Versions

As it’s been four years since the initial Apple iWatch product launch, there have been several versions released.

The main developments of the products have been:

Apple iWatch Series One: This watch did not have a built-in GPS chip and relied on the user’s iPhone being nearby to use Apple Maps. It was able to track your heartbeat, stairs climbed and steps taken but was not able to properly track distance. Instead, the Apple iWatch would store the data locally and would attempt to sync with your iPhone later.

Apple iWatch Series Two: In 2016, Apple announced the second installment of its Apple iWatch product line, which included a water resistance 50-meter rating for swimming, a brighter screen and a built-in GPS so runners can track their progress without their iPhone on them.

Apple iWatch Series Three: The main new feature in the third series of the Apple iWatch was LTE connectivity capability. This new feature was supposed to make the watch feel like it could replace your iPhone entirely, but multiple reviews stated that it failed to achieve this goal. Even the Wall Street Journal described the LTE connection as unreliable and needing further improvement.

Apple iWatch Series Four: Unveiled in 2018, the fourth edition of the Apple iWatch featured a bigger display screen and new options for watch face customization. Most notably, it became the first product on the market (without a prescription) that can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading, and it was approved by the FDA for this feature. The ECG feature can help detect a variety of cardiac problems in users.

The Apple Watch has exceeded most user’s expectations. It maintains the Apple track record for a sleek and modern design, and it’s great for those who are active, busy or just tech-lovers. The iWatch continues to develop with every intention to eventually replace people’s phones, and each new version’s exciting advancements bring the iWatch closer to its ultimate destiny.

LG TVs

man pointing a remote control at a curved TV

If you’ve been in the market for a new television in recent years, there’s a good chance that you’ve at least taken a look at an LG TV. That’s because LG has grown drastically over the past half century and become the second-largest maker of LCD televisions in the world. These days, roughly one out of every nine households has an LG-made television, making it an essential part of the world’s culture.

Where are LG Televisions Produced?

LG is a South Korean-based company that has made televisions since 1966. The company first started making TVs after the Korean War as an effort to help the country begin the recovery process following its separation from the DPRK. In that first year, the company was able to produce 9,050 units, but now it produces over 500 million units per year, making it one of the world’s largest manufacturers of televisions.

What Televisions are LG Known For?

LG is best known as the pioneer of the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) television, which has emerged as the most serious competitor for standard LCD televisions. Its light comes from an LCD backlight in the set, illuminating all of the pixels in the television. The OLED TV, however, gets its light from each individual pixel, creating a much cleaner and clearer picture.

OLED technology first appeared in the late 1980s in Kodak products, and it has since become LG’s signature offering in the world of television. One of the biggest reasons for its success is the ability to light up every pixel individually, which makes the screen malleable and creates its thin look. It also helps prevent the white dots that sometimes show up on older TVs because each pixel always stays black when it’s not being used.

If you’re the kind of person who really enjoys large-screen televisions, you’re likely also familiar with 4K TVs, a more advanced version of high-definition television. LG has been one of the leaders in 4K technology over the past decade, and by the end of 2020, roughly half of all televisions in the United States are expected to be of the 4K variety. In fact, as screens keep getting larger, it’s become much harder for consumers to find 1080p as the 4K continues to gain market share.

What Technology Have LG TVs Recently Produced?

In 2019, LG officially released a roll-away television that could be retracted into a hidden area with the push of a button, allowing consumers to hide their TVs and get a better view of their home and its surroundings. In a matter of seconds, the roll-away television system can either emerge from or retract into its resting place, making it very easy to make it a part of any home.

Thin televisions have been a large part of LG’s recent advances in technology, as the company preceded the roll-away television with the Wallpaper TV, which stays in place on the wall but is almost as thin as a credit card, making it one of the thinnest televisions on the market.

As technology continues to make leaps and bounds, it’s likely that the future of TV is nowhere close to being set in stone. As television continues evolving to meet the demands of a changing world as well as incorporate new abilities, it’s highly likely that LG’s televisions will remain along the cutting edge.

Amazon Echo

Amazon Alexa Echo Plus on a wooden table

In recent years, smart speakers have been changing the way we interact with technology. They’re paving the way for a future in which we have robots as home assistants. Devices such as the Amazon Echo can be a revelation for elderly or blind people by making everyday life just a bit more convenient for everyone. The Echo broke onto the market as a speaker/receiver that was controlled by voice command. This has evolved into some seriously impressive artificial intelligence that can provide handy help around the home — and it never gives you backchat.

What Does a Home Assistant Do?

The Amazon Echo is an amalgamation of two new forms of technology. The first is the voice assistant — introduced via the iPhone 4s with its inclusion of Siri. This technology was bought by Apple in 2010 for $200 million and was initially used to make calls, check calendars, send text messages and navigate Google Maps. In 2014, Amazon integrated this AI element into a wireless speaker equipped with a receiver for interacting with people. The virtual assistant was born and christened Alexa.

The possibilities for what the Amazon Echo and Alexa can help people achieve around the home are endless. You can now buy smart light bulbs which can be controlled by the compact, innocuous-looking speaker. The Echo is part of a growing demand for smart technology, such as thermostats, that can be operated remotely, televisions we can control without lifting a finger and even remote operation of our vehicles.

More Than a Passing Fad

The Amazon Echo has been firmly embraced in popular culture. You can ask Alexa to sing a duet with Ed Sheeran, and she will oblige. Amazon has integrated the system with a free music streaming service. You can simply command her to create a 90s playlist or a collection of the greatest hits by your favorite artist. This can facilitate a workout at home or help you get out of bed in the morning — it’s even an awesome party trick.

The Amazon Echo has been used to make the lives of elderly and disabled people easier. While the device is a highly sophisticated piece of equipment, the simple voice-operated system is easy to use. It’s less confusing than using a search engine for people who are less familiar with technology. The NHS in the United Kingdom has even joined forces with Amazon to deliver a simple health checking function via Alexa that could help take the strain off the health service.

Will Home Assistants One Day be Robots?

Alexa is operated by its wake word, Alexa. Unless the name is used, the speaker doesn’t record speech. As the technology is evolving, and the Amazon Echo becomes able to tell jokes and operate a microwave, a robot home assistant doesn’t seem like a distant dream. As people, we tend to personify things we spend time with and form an attachment to them. Hence, men name their boats and sometimes even their satnav systems. Some people even believe that robots will be viable companions and could help people suffering from feelings of loneliness.

So there you have it, the Amazon Echo is a futuristic and exciting addition to the home. It can be used for purely functional purposes or put to work as a provider of entertainment and light-relief. This type of technology looks like it’s here to stay and possibly set to evolve beyond our wildest dreams.

Samsonite Bags

Vintage Samsonite luggage

They’ve been charged by a bull, thrown out of moving cars and slammed in doors. Samsonite is a household name in luggage in part because of its memorable marketing campaigns. Of course, that’s not the only reason the Samsonite name has endured for more than 100 years and holds the number-one spot in top-selling luggage in the U.S., Europe and Japan.

The Story of Samsonite

Jesse Schwayder, a former suitcase salesman for the Seward Trunk & Bag Company, founded Samsonite in Denver in 1910 under the brand name Samson. The company originally made furniture and card tables as a family enterprise run by Schwayder and his brothers. After years of selling robust trunks and suitcases, the company introduced the Samsonite suitcase in 1941. That first model was called the Samsonite Streamlite, a new design in luggage at the time. It was made of vulcanized fiber that resembled rawhide, and its shape was advertised as conforming to the body for easy carrying.

Samsonite bags were wildly successful, and the Samson company officially changed its name to Samsonite in 1966. When Jesse Schwayder passed away in 1970, his son, King David Schwayder, was at the helm. Starting in 1973, ownership of the company changed hands several times after first being purchased by Beatrice Foods. The Samsonite brand was then sold to Kholbert, Kravis and Roberts in 1986 and then to American Brands, which was bought by billionaire Meshulam Riklis.

The company became an independent, publicly owned corporation in 1995. Today, Samsonite is an International Corporation and the leading luggage manufacturer in the world. Its main headquarters are in Denver, Colorado, but it has offices worldwide.

The Evolution of Samsonite Bags

Samsonite has maintained its position as the top luggage maker by continually innovating and improving its bags while maintaining its focus on durability. For instance, they introduced the concept of piggybacking luggage in 1989, which led to the industry-wide movement toward upright suitcases. Here are some notable Samsonite models through the years:

  • Silhouette: Samsonite introduced this line of luggage in 1958. It had a sleek, modern shape and recessed hardware that held up well to wear and tear.
  • Classic Attache Case: The company met the needs of the 1960s business executive with this durable, hard-shell briefcase.
  • Saturn: With the eyes of the world turned toward outer space in 1969, Samsonite launched the Saturn suitcase. It was the first polypropylene suitcase with injection-molded shells. It came in far-out colors like gold, red and dreamy dark blue.
  • Sam: This was the first Samsonite suitcase with wheels. It was also accompanied by some 1970s-appropriate risque advertising declaring that Sam sticks close, never intrudes and keeps all your deepest secrets above a photo of a couple embracing in what appears to be a hotel room.
  • Oyster: The lightweight, hard-sided Oyster came out in 1986. It was the first case with a three-point locking system, and it went on to be the fastest-selling suitcase of all time.

Since the release of the Oyster, Samsonite has continued to innovate and recently introduced the first-ever web-connected suitcase with geo-tracking capabilities and other smart-luggage features. Samsonite also makes garment bags, computer cases, sports bags and casual bags. You can find their shoes and accessories sold under names such as Hedgren and Samsonite Black Label. They also license the Samsonite name for use on products such as clothing and handbags.

Despite intense competition from cheap suitcase manufacturers worldwide and a rough period when the company changed hands several times, Samsonite is still going strong. It remains a brand that’s respected for its legacy of high-quality luggage and bags.