Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Investigating Bluetooth with Sphero Ollie

We love our connected programmable robots. Lot's of them use bluetooth to communicate with a tablet or laptop. One of the activities for British Science Week particularly caught our eye, it's an investigation of bluetooth signals between a device and a selfie stick. We thought we would adapt it to use one of our favourite connected toys instead of a selfie-stick.

Sphero Ollie

Ollie uses Bluetooth Low Energy to communicate with a tablet. My 7 year old got one of these neat programmable robots for Christmas (see our Ollie review for more details.)

The science week activity suggests that you try using Bluetooth at different distances and through a variety of materials.

What is Bluetooth?

I did't find a really good video to explain Bluetooth for kids, but this one from TechQuickie is entertaining and information (just check it first to make sure you're happy to share it with your kids.) Did you know Bluetooth has a connection to the Vikings?

Bluetooth Range

Ollie is quoted to have a Bluetooth range of 25m (without obstructions.) We found this to be really accurate. We took Ollie outside as we couldn't get that far away in our house. 

We usually use the Amazon Fire to control Ollie outdoors, but we'd already started the experiments indoors with the iPad so we stuck to that (being very careful with the iPad!)

We used our walkie talkies to communicate what was happening at the other end of the experiment so we didn't have to yell down the road! (And, well honestly, we like any excuse to get the walkie talkies out.)

My younger son kept Ollie while my older son and I walked further away, checking over the walkie talkies whether we could still control Ollie. Once we couldn't we called my younger son over and measured the distance back to where he had started. 30 big adult steps, which turned out to be just under a meter each when we measured them. So, yes. About 25m unobstructed range. 

In our house we found that we could leave Ollie downstairs and control him from upstairs (through the walls and ceiling) up to about 15m away and then we would get the "Move closer to reconnect" message. 

My son tried various materials to block the signal to Ollie including himself. But Ollie just kept going. 

He tried putting Ollie in a biscuit (cookie) tin with a lid on, as suggested in the activity, but Ollie just kept going! The range reduced slightly when moving away from Ollie-in-a-tin. Putting Ollie in a biscuit tin provided lots of entertainment! We found a spot where Ollie would connect outside the biscuit tin but lose the connection when we trapped him in the tin. But this was just a bit less than the full range of Ollie.

We repeated Ollie-in-a-biscuit tin (using the Amazon Fire this time) when Ruby came to visit:

My son didn't give up when he could control Ollie through a biscuit tin. We have a cabinet with thick metal drawers. Surely Ollie couldn't get through that. But he could! The range was reduced considerably now though. He couldn't control Ollie from more than a few meters away.

Other connected toys that use Bluetooth that you could try this experiment with include Sphero, Meccanoid, mBot and Dot & Dash (though Dot & Dash are probably too cute to trap in a biscuit tin and you'd struggle to find a biscuit tin that Meccanoid would fit in!)

More Digital Space with British Science Week

One of the other activities in the British Science Week primary activity pack is one we've done lots of times before. It's conductive playdough or electro dough. You can read Learn about Circuits with Electro-Dough to find out about that one.

The third activity in the Digital Space section of the pack uses Scratch our favourite kids programming language. It's a fun activity where kids create an animation of a food chain.

Source: British Science Week Primary Activity Pack

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