Leka robot ball hands-on: bigger than Sphero (with a face!)

While Sphero might have the tiny remote-control ball market cornered, it would seem that Leka is aiming for the next size up. Leka is a robotic companion ball aimed at children. While it might be aimed specifically at children with special needs, we couldn't help but be entranced by the possibilities in everyday mobile play. This ball has a face, after all, and far be it for me to deny the joy of chasing a cartoon robot creature across the floor.

Leka is a "smart toy" – so says its creators – aimed at bring an aid for children to to gain valuable motor, cognitive, and emotional skills. This device was developed originally for children with exceptional needs. As such, this device uses educational games to attain its goals in helping children grow into healthy, well-adjusted people.

This device can be remotely controlled through an app – we're seeing it work with an iPad mini. It can also be sent out on its own to play autonomously. Leka uses its digital display face to simulate a wide variety of emotions and reactions to the children they play with. With these expressions, Leka is able to help children understand basic social cues and expand their visual response vocabulary.

Outside of any intent for the device, Leka is a fantastic looking piece of hardware. Bright lights, smooth movement, and an overall pleasing aesthetic make me super excited for the first release of this device – and this platform.

Leka began its life as an Indiegogo campaign, seeking out funds from everyday users to get on track for manufacturing. That was back in June of 2016 – now it's been funded well over its initial goal. Pre-orders still exist, including a CES Special Price edition (actually a "Classic Edition") estimated to ship in February of next year.

This device is available for pre-order through the company's Indiegogo campaign page (since funded). Several versions are available, the least expensive of which is a $490 "CES Special Price" pack that includes a Classic Edition Leka, a dock, and "no subscription required." There's also a Developer Edition that includes the Leka, a charging dock, and access to Leka's developer tools and SDK. This version ships 4-months before public release and costs $790 USD.