Sphero Inc., which makes rolling robot toys, and littleBits, which develops modular electronics, today announced that they have joined forces in an attempt to become the No. 1 provider of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics or STEAM and coding kits in the world.
Boulder, Colo.-based Sphero was founded as Orbotix in 2010. It raised $12.1 million in June 2018. The company claimed that it produces the No. 1 robot in education, available in more than 40,000 schools, clubs, and institutions globally.
This spring, Sphero partnered with Space Center Houston, the visitors’ center of the NASA Johnson Space Center, on a virtual Apollo 11 Moon Landing Challenge.
New York-based littleBits was founded in 2011 by Ayah Bdeir, a TED senior fellow, MIT Media Lab alumna, and Inc Magazine Top 100 Female Founder. The company said it has sold millions of STEAM kits in more than 70 countries.
Sphero and littleBits said they have reached a combined total of more than 6 million students, 65,000 teachers, and 35,000 schools globally, with more than $500 million in sales. The value of the acquisition was not specified.
Both companies had Star Wars licenses for educational kits. Sphero was perhaps best known for its BB-8 replicas, but its license for new products expired at the end of last year. The company will support existing toys for two more years.
An educational robotics leader gets rolling
With the acquisition of littleBits, Sphero claimed that it is the largest player in the $150 billion education technology industry. The company said it now has a portfolio of more than 140 patents in robotics, electronics, software, and the Internet of Things.
It added that teachers will have access to hundreds of thousands of community-generated inventions and activities, and over 1,000 lessons tied to NGSS, CSTA, and Common Core standards.
Sphero and littleBits also plan to rally their networks of educators around the world that they have cultivated through their ambassador programs, with over 67 “Sphero Heroes” and 50 littleBits “Bitstar Educators.”
“Sphero and littleBits are on a mission to make hands-on learning fun and memorable,” said Sphero CEO Paul Berberian. “Together, we’re able to make an even greater impact by delivering the best possible solution — whether it is programming a robot to solve a maze or building an electronic music synthesizer. There are infinite learning possibilities — and they’re all fun.”
Sphero serves growing demand
According to a Harris poll, 91% of teachers say they would like to integrate more hands-on learning in their classes. Sphero also cited research by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that found that students who enjoy weekly hands-on learning activities fare 40% to 70% better in science, math, and other subjects.
“When I studied engineering, it was top-down, test-based,” said Ayah Bdeir, founder of littleBits. “I hated it and wanted to quit every semester. Then I got exposed to the pedagogy of learning through play, and my life changed. No one could peel me away from learning, inventing, creating. Together, littleBits and Sphero are now bringing this experience to kids everywhere.”
At the same time, other consumer robotics startups have faced challenges meeting expectations, with Anki’s failure as a notable example.
With this deal, Sphero plans to accelerate international growth and acquire other products and companies to further expand its portfolio of STEAM products and tools. The company will have offices in Boulder, New York, and Hong Kong with Paul Berberian as CEO. Ayah Bdeir will be leaving littleBits.
The Robot Report has launched the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo focuses on improving the design, development and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum.