Orbotix is Rolling Right Along with Sphero


You know you have an interesting product, when 7 year old son wants to come to work with you. I was talking with Jim Booth, VP of Business Development & Operations, of Orbotix as he described the excitement around their new product Sphero, a robotic ball you control with your Smartphone. Sphero will come with several free gaming apps and the company plans to open up its API for developers who want to write their own apps.

How did you come up with the idea? What is a Sphero?
Orbotix stated out as a Techstars company that was founded by Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, our co-founders.  Ian Bernstein, our CTO and founder, is a non-traditionally trained robotist and he came up with the idea for Sphero one day while talking with Adam in the Tech Stars bunker.  Ian in particular realized that we’ve got these incredibly powerful Smartphones we carry around everyday and said wouldn’t be cool if we harnessed their power to  control everyday physical devices around us.

So Ian and Adam started by using different smartphones to control everyday devices such as garage doors, locks and motorcycles.  But then they both hit upon the idea of creating a robotic ball, that could be used for different gaming apps that you control using your Smartphone. Think of it as a Segway inside of a spherical shell.  Designing a robotic ball is actually something really difficult to achieve as the sensors needed to control the ball from the phone have only recently become available.
But one of the great things about Boulder and TechStars is not only did we emerge with an idea but also great mentors. Mark Tilden of WoWee continues to mentor Ian and Paul Berberian, our CEO, helped clarify our business direction.

How is a Sphero different than a remote control car?
The way Sphero behaves isn’t determined by the physical device, but by the software that is controlling it. So, unlike a remote control car that has basic controls, front and back, left and right a Sphero can roll right, left, and tilt. It has an infinite number of uses beyond gaming but that’s where a lot of the interest currently is.


There seems to be a lot of excitement and interest around this product? What’s been the biggest surprise since starting out?
The biggest revelation is how much people connect with and love this product. Prioro launching at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), we had not done a lot of marketing or PR, but we were fortunate in that we had a perfect storm of events – engineering progress, press interest and consumer interest – all of interest that really helped bring a lot of attention to Sphero.
At the CES event we were just amazed at the reaction from consumers, developers and buyers. It was just a great experience. The team had been working really hard and it all seemed to come together. We were thrilled with the level of interest.

Because of the excitement at CES, we are completely focused on getting Sphero retail-ready by late 2011. We’re fine-tuning the software, hardware, packaging – we want to create a great customer experience. We want people to be elated when they get their package from us. You know how when you receive a package, begin opening it up and are just thrilled by the experience –  that’s what we want to create for our customers.

Any advice for new startups or someone working on a new idea?
There’s tons of advice and resources out there in the Boulder Community – Techstars, VCs and experienced mentors.  These resources have provided an amazing support network for a number of local successful startups.  So I encourage other startups to tap into the experience and resources that Boulder community has to offer.  Beyond that, I tell other startups to focus all their efforts on the core aspects of their business and weed out all of noise. Then start executing.  Quickly develop a prototype, bring people in and show them what you have so you get an idea of the level of interest and reaction.

About the Author:
Hi. I love meeting people working on their "big" idea! I write about start-ups, drink good coffee at great places (I don't think there's a bad coffee shop in Boulder), and ride my Quickbeam to work at Collective Intellect. If you want to know more about me, check out my blog

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  • Anonymous

    Wow. The team seems to have made great progress with the speed and agility of the ball since I last saw video of it.

    It will be great seeing what developers come up with.

  • http://sco.tt Scott Yates

    Jennifer,

    Nice story, and I know you volunteer to do this, but please take a bit more time with your lead sentence.

    Look at this one: “You know you have an interesting product, when 7 year old son wants to come to work with you.”

    First, please hyphenate the compound modifiers. “7-year-old”

    Second, “my” son? The founder’s son?

    Third, if you bring up the son, then let us know… Did he like the toy?

    Nobody likes a pedant, so apologies in advance.

    Your humble typist,

    -Scott