I joined a select group of students, makers and educators who didn’t let the ominous Bomb Vortex Blizzard (actual name of the snowstorm that hit Colorado last week) stop us from making our way to Boulder CO for the Sphero RVR Pi Day Hackathon.

10 early supporters of the RVR Kickstarter campaign got hands-on with Sphero engineers and the upcoming Sphero RVR programmable drivable robot. The hackers were paired with Sphero engineers and tasked with programming the RVR to complete various challenges and obstacles. One such challenge had teams install an anemometer and Raspberry Pi to the RVR and program the vehicle to convert wind speed to drive speed.

While Sphero has always encouraged hacking and customization of their robots, the RVR is the first robot where this is the primary focus. When I asked Sphero founder Adam Wilson what the impetus for the RVR was, he explained that its essentially the same base platform and control system their engineering team starts with when developing their drivable robots, opened up for hackers.

With a universal expansion port and onboard power, you can attach and run third-party hardware like a Raspberry Pi, BBC micro:bit, or Arduino. I particularly like that the RVR platform allows you to have an out of the box control system and multitude of sensors that are programmable by the Sphero Edu app, so you can focus on the fun part of making your project mobile.

Brent Takenouchi, a middle school teacher from Waimai Middle School in Hawaii, left the tropics and braved the Colorado blizzard because he plans on using the RVR as a STEM teaching tool in the school makerspace this fall. I asked Brent what excited him about being here and he shared, “I like encouraging students to come up with their own unique project ideas and the RVR will be great in helping them be creative.”

Brent Takenouchi and Beth Nazario

One of my favorite moments was meeting Dana and Mackenzie Glass, a mother and daughter team of hackers from Monument Colorado. Mackenzie, a sophmore on the high school robotics team was thrilled to get to interact with Sphero engineers who provided her with career path advice and a few new Python skills. I asked Mackenzie what her first RVR project will be, and she quickly responded, “To have the robot unload the family dishwasher.”  An ambitious, yet practical endeavor and I can’t wait to see it!

Of course it wouldn’t be a Pi Day celebration without some fun. The Sphero engineering team was ‘demonstrating’ their RVR Nerf gun, which was made from 3D printed parts, an Arduino and an old office Nerf gun.

Also, once I discovered the spread of homemade pies, I knew braving the blizzard was the right choice. The Sphero RVR Kickstarter wraps up on March 21 and will launch later this fall.

of course there was pie