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Sphero Specdrums let me turn CES carpets into sweet music

Sphero's next act isn’t a Star Wars robot, it’s a musical ring.

sphero-specdrums

Sphero's latest thing is a musical ring, not a robot.

Scott Stein/CNET

Sphero, the company that makes rolling robotic balls and, until recently, Star Wars BB-8 and R2-D2 robots, is back at CES. But this time, it's relaunching a musical motion-enabled Bluetooth ring, Specdrums, that Sphero acquired last year. The $65 rebranded ring is launching today and shipping January 15.

Yes, a ring. Like, one you wear on your finger. I've been wearing one of Sphero's Specdrums for the last week or so, playing musical notes on carpets and paintings, snacks and drawings.

It's weird.

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Sphero Specdrums on my finger. It responds to tapping via an accelerometer, and then samples color through its sensor.

Scott Stein/CNET

Sphero acquired the Boulder Colorado-based Specdrums company in 2018 as part of a focus to expand Sphero's footprint in STEAM education. The "A" in STEAM stands for "Arts," and Specdrums are Bluetooth MIDI-compatible finger-worn musical instruments, focused on musical creation and, eventually, coding. Sphero has been shifting more towards education with its robotics and coding initiatives over the past few years, and Specdrums look like a continuation of that mission.

Now playing: Watch this: Sphero Specdrums are rings that turn colors into music
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They're dead simple and strangely addictive. The ring, when tapped, flashes and senses whatever color it's pressed against. That's communicated back to the paired phone app, which converts that into a sound.

Specdrums first started shipping last year before the Sphero acquisition, exploring ways in which the rings could tap into MIDI-compatible apps like Garageband. New applications can be built using Python, and Specdrums has already been building a library of resources for would-be coders.

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Scott Stein/CNET

But, Sphero's rebranding and reboot also means a new iOS and Android app made by Sphero, called Specdrums Mix. I never used Specdrums last year, but I tried an early version of the new app with a single Specdrum and started playing around on colorful CES hallway carpets, and at home with my 10- and 5-year-old kids. The app lets you record new sounds to assign to colors (hello, fart noises), and there are a handful of instrument packs to download and try. Audio plays through your connected device's speakers when the drum hits anything of any color (I tried everything from tablets, to my fingers, to bags of chips.)

Specdrums are made to work with multiple rings at once, and it's probably a lot better that way if you're so inclined. A two-pack of Specdrums costs $100 on Sphero's website (the rings will arrive in retail stores by the spring, according to Sphero.)

Will Sphero incorporate Specdrums' musical synesthesia into other robots and products? It seems likely. For now, though, they're a funky musical ring toy that I liked a lot more than I thought I would. Now you'll know why I'm tapping every colorful shirt and carpet I see at CES this year.

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