Having entertained Star Wars fans with a series of movie tie-ins, Sphero's newest mini robot swaps the movie theater for the classroom. The Sphero Bolt is a programmable rolling droid with a bright LED matrix display, accessible coding apps, and new ways to automate the bot's actions.

That 8 x 8 LED matrix display will be the first feature that grabs your attention, thanks to the Bolt's transparent shell – it can be programmed to show anything from text to smiley faces, as well as indicating when the bot is being charged up.

As with previous Sphero robot balls, the emphasis is on education and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) learning. The accompanying apps for mobile devices and computers provide coding opportunities for all ages and levels of experience, whether it's getting the Bolt to navigate an obstacle course or using it as the basis of a table-top game.

So far so like the previous Spheros, but as well as the display the Bolt also adds infrared sensors (which can be used to operate several Bolts in sync), improved auto-aim capabilities (for more precise routing), and an ambient light sensor. So, for example, you could program the Bolt to reverse and retrace its path if it finds itself in a dark spot.

What's more, while the Bolt matches the size of previous models, improvements in the internal tech mean the battery life is boosted to two hours between charges. An inductive charging cradle is included that the Sphero Bolt just drops into.

Those extra sensors are on top of the usual motors, accelerometers and gyroscopes that previous Sphero robots have had, so the Bolt will have no trouble zooming around the floor and following whatever instructions get sent to it.

The aim is to give anyone and everyone "an opportunity to learn while having fun." From the app side, users can explore a range of pre-programmed games and activities with the Bolt, or use the bot to learn the basics of coding (the lessons are based on the visually-led Scratch programming language).

Meanwhile the new robot is waterproof and resistant to some serious drops and hits, thanks to its tough outer shell. Its ruggedness could be one advantage the Sphero Bolt has over similar educational bots like the Anki Cozmo.

Sphero's previous smart balls have always impressed in terms of their build quality and their capabilities, and with the extra functions on offer here, it seems safe to assume the Bolt will continue the tradition. It's on sale now for US$149.99. You can see how it rolls in the video below.

Product page: Sphero Bolt

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