Sphero’s BB-8, the little droid that could, has been getting all of the attention but people sometimes forget that Sphero has been making little app-controlled drones and droids for a while now. There was the Ollie, a stunt-drone, and now there’s the Ollie Darkside. Gee, you think that they’re capitalising on the Star Wars connection there at all? Nah…
Though you might believe they are. A little. Ollie Darkside is all reds and blacks, the traditional Sith colours, and it has a bit of an attitude. Seriously, the drone will give you grief during the initial setup when you’re supposed to assign it a name. This is the shape of things to come because Darkside isn’t a great listener. This is intentional.
A Box of Sass
Inside the box, which is a sombre grey and black broken by white text, you’ll find all of the essential bits for getting the Ollie Darkside up and running. It should actually be usable straight out of the box (okay, so you have to charge it first) but there’s more to it than just a cylindrical thing on wheels.
Once you’ve unpacked Ollie and stuck him on charge, and also attempted to connect Ollie to your smartphone – a move that will start the mandatory firmware update – you’ll find that you’ve got some time on your hands to decide how you want this little critter to look. It comes with a set of slicks as well as knobbly tyres which can be swapped in depending on what sort of terrain you intend to traverse. There are also two sets of hubcaps, which need to be pried off with a coin or something. No matter how much you think you’re going to snap something. Plus the manual we didn’t look at and the charge cable, which you will have already located.
Talking a Walk. Er, Run
Pairing Ollie to an HTC One M9 was simple enough. Just touching the phone, with Bluetooth enabled, to the little wheeled menace was enough to get the ball rolling. On sync, Ollie will light up and stabilise, meaning that little face is going to be staring at you. Or someone else’s ankles. Right after Ollie bashes into them. The pairing process needs to be repeated each time you want to play with the little guy, assuming you’ve shut down in between.
We spent a few minutes in the relatively-controlled Stuff offices, figuring out how to drive Ollie Darkside around without causing too much damage. Then it was out the office door and downstairs for a proper test. No, really, we drove Ollie down two flights of stairs to get to the ground floor. It leaves the ground as a design feature so we figured the bumps wouldn’t hurt much. We were right.
After that is was a trip over some shiny tiles on the slicks, then a brick parking lot, a tar road, more brick and clumps of grass before heading to some rougher terrain with Ollie hitting every bump and jump on the way. Ollie is deceptively fast and will get away from you if you’re not paying attention. You won’t lose it, though, unless it’s run over by a car or stomped by a cow or something. The drone connects via Bluetooth and loses power if you head outside that range.
Control is simple, if a touch hard to get used to. In the images above you’ll see a little white icon in the lower right corner. This is used to orient Ollie in a specific direction, so you can be sure that using the acceleration side of the twin-stick touchscreen controls (on the right) will send him forward. The right-hand side control will also let you turn or reverse Ollie but the problem is that Up isn’t always Forward. It changes, depending on which way your drone was facing when it stopped. Hence the reorientation option.
On the left is the stunt-pad. It’ll display names of tricks and jumps, which we suspect Ollie is making up for the attention, but you also use gesture-based controls to send Ollie into a flat spin, perform hard corners without slowing and a few other things besides. You’ve got to get used to it, though, it’s not as intuitive as flying a Parrot drone for the first time. Be prepared to hit walls, people, small animals and so on while you’re learning the ropes.
One problem is that the controls can sometimes just vanish. If you somehow close the app, which is pretty easy since the controls veer over the on-screen smartphone buttons, then Ollie will stop responding. Not cool but sometimes he needs a time-out.
Are you going to have fun with Ollie Darkside? Sure, if you build a ramp or two or have a perfect back yard. It’s even fun inside but unless you’re running obstacle courses then the shine is going to wear off this R2,700 toy pretty quick. Sphero do sell a set of ramps and things so you could set up a little stunt-park… Which might be an essential. There’s no camera in this arrogant little drone so it’s purely for entertainment. Just remember that Ollie Darkside performs at its best in a crowd. It does so love showing off for company.