Sphero's Color-Sensor Ring Turns Any Object Into an Instrument

Sphero is putting the A in STEAM education with Specdrums, a unique tech learning tool that teaches kids about music using a wireless color sensor. The kit is powered by a Bluetooth-enabled ring you wear on a finger and use to tap different colors, each of which plays a different note in the associated iOS or Android app. Available for pre-order this week and shipping January 15th in the U.S., the kit comes in both a single-ring ($64.99) and dual-ring ($99.99) varieties.

We had a chance to go fingers on with the Specdrums here at CES 2019 and had a lot of fun playing songs by tapping on the rollup keyboard that comes with the ring. In the mobile app we were able to choose among different styles of music and instruments, from traditional pianos to funky disco synth. There are over a dozen different music styles / instruments to choose from, each of which has several loops that you can have playing while you jam with one or two fingers.

Containing both a color sensor and an accelerometer, the white plastic ring connects to your device via Bluetooth LE. It charges via microUSB and should last up to two hours on a single charge.

While the roll-up material keyboard, which is the same size, shape and texture as a long mouse pad, is probably the best way to play music with the Specdrums ring, you can tap on any object in the world. A Sphero representative played music by tapping colors on his t-shirt.

If you put the ring down, you can also tap a virtual representation of the keyboard in the app, but that defeats the purpose of the entire kit. A Sphero rep told us that, even though you can play on-screen, you will not be able to use the app without connecting to the ring.  

The company also told us that the initial Specdrums app, that rolls out this month is just the beginning. It will add lesson plans to the Sphero Edu app, which schools and kids already use to program the company’s line of robots.

Just the beginning?

Even more interestingly, the company plans to expand the capabilities of the ring in the near future so that you will be able to use it for tasks other than playing music. Since the ring is a wearable color sensor with an accelerometer and Bluetooth LE -- all the music processing is taking place on your mobile device -- it could eventually be used to control the company’s robots or even to do crazy things via an SDK.

I’d love to be able to roll a Sphero Bolt around or hack it to control a smart home simply by moving my finger and / or tapping against colors. The technology certainly makes it possible.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.