Seamless Toy Introduces Atoms, the Latest Robotic Toy from Colorado
A lot of people will tell you simplicity is a virtue. Like kids who play with dolls or building blocks for hours. Or the engineers who helped design Apple’s hardware and OS X software. Or, apparently, U2 lead singer Bono.
That’s the philosophy behind Seamless Toy, a one-year-old Boulder, CO-based startup. Seamless Toy was founded by a former Apple engineer, and former Apple executives, along with Bono, are investors.
Seamless Toy recently launched its first product, which are “smart building blocks” named Atoms. It’s a slogan that’s apt: Atoms are small robotic blocks, and varieties include sensors, motors, and controllers. Atoms can be combined into kits to build robots or added to existing toys like LEGOS, action figures, or dolls.
Atoms are high tech toys for kids who have active imaginations that transcend technology, Seamless Toy founder and CEO Michael Rosenblatt said.
“Some kids want to build robots,” but others want to make dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures talk, wave a magic wand that works, or make their LEGO spaceship “fly” around the kitchen floor, Rosenblatt said.
Or they just find a new way to annoy their brothers and sisters. “Kids taught us one of the killer apps is playing pranks on siblings,” Rosenblatt said.
Rosenblatt wants to build toys for those children—toys that are versatile, simple, and affordable, even if they are, in fact, robots.
“We’re going to narrow the gap between what kids can imagine and what they can build,” Rosenblatt said.
To help with the launch, Seamless Toy raised a $2.6 million seed round recently. It will finance Rosenblatt’s ambitious vision.
“We’re going to put together a really kick-ass team that will make a product that will shake up the toy industry and make something really great for kids,” Rosenblatt said.
Rosenblatt knows a thing or two about kick-ass products that disrupt an industry. He worked for Apple for 10 years and was a member of the iPod new technology team. He also worked on the iPhone development team.
Rosenblatt is not the only Apple alumni at Seamless Toy. Jay Hamlin, who is in charge of electrical engineering and systems integration, worked for Apple for 20 years. Former Apple chief software technology officer Avie Tevanian, who led the development of OS X and what would become the iOS operating systems, and former chief financial officer Fred Anderson invested in the seed round.
The engineering team also includes veterans of Tesla Motors and prestigious academic centers like Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the MIT Media Lab.
Rosenblatt describes it as a world-class team working on developing a fundamental architecture for Atoms that will last for several generations of toys. The goal is to have a platform that will last about a decade before it needs a major redesign. Rosenblatt believes that will keep the price of designing new Atoms down.
Rosenblatt knows Atoms’ engineering and pedigree are irrelevant to the target audience—primarily kids, but also the adults who will pay for the toy.
“There’s a lot of complexity under the hood, but we want to make it simple for kids with compelling price points for parents,” Rosenblatt said.
Still, Atoms aren’t cheap. While many individual components such as motors, light sensors, and accelerometers are under $20, more complex sets sell for up to $119.99.
Given Seamless Toy’s Apple connections, it’s to be expected that Atoms can connect to an iPhone or iPad.
Atoms made their debut last year with a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $132,000. The money helped Seamless Toy develop prototypes. Rosenblatt hopes it represents the first step on a march to retailers around the world.
“Ultimately, it needs to get on the shelves of stores in a lot of places,” Rosenblatt said. “You don’t get there by being a premium product, or even one in exclusive toy stores.”
For now, however, Atoms are only available through the Seamless Toy website.
The list of investors in Seamless Toy’s seed round includes impressive names like Tevanian and Anderson—and also Bono, the lead singer of U2.
As it turns out, Bono is also in the investing business. Elevation Partners lists him as a co-founder and managing director, along with Anderson and Tevanian. The firm is most notable for its investment in Facebook, which lead to mistaken reports that Bono personally received hundreds of millions of dollars from its IPO. Actually, the shares belonged to the fund.
Rosenblatt knew about the connection to Bono, but he didn’t expect it to matter. Then when his team met with Elevation Partners, he heard an unexpected but familiar voice.
“Bono called in on the speakerphone,” Rosenblatt said. “It was one of the more surprising things since we got started. I was a little surreal.”
While Bono steals the headlines, Tevanian and Anderson’s involvement likely is a more important endorsement in the tech world. The trio made personal investments in Seamless Toy’s seed round, Rosenblatt said. Elevation itself is a late-stage venture capital investor.
Early stage VC investors Promus Ventures, Founders Collective, and Proof Ventures also were in the round, along with other angel investors.
Seamless Toys is not the first Boulder-based company to get into the toy robot market.
Earlier in November, Modular Robotics launched a Kickstarter campaign for its newest line of toys, called MOSS. Like Atoms, MOSS comes in both kits and as individual components. MOSS is Modular Robotics’ second product line, and like Atoms, its market is children who would enjoy playing with robotic toys but who aren’t necessarily young gadget geeks.
Modular Robotics has raised $3 million from investors, with Boulder-based VC firm the Foundry Group acting as lead investor. The Kickstarter campaign has raised about $270,000 with 15 days to go, easily clearing its $100,000 goal.
Then there’s the relative granddaddy of toy robots, Sphero. Orbotix, a Techstars 2010 graduate, makes the smartphone-controlled robot ball. Sphero has received raves from tech blogs like TechCrunch, and Orbotix has raised $15 million from VCs. Foundry Group also is an investor.
Rosenblatt said he appreciates the advanced engineering behind both products, likening them to Lamborghinis, but said his vision is fundamentally different. He’s the type of person more impressed with a fun mass-market product like the Mini Cooper than an unobtainable Italian supercar.
That might be why Seamless Toy embraces the word “toy” more than the other companies, while the word “robot” is surprisingly hard to find on the Atoms website. It’s a different way of looking at how kids play and interact with technology, Rosenblatt said, and he wants Atoms to be a product kids can use to enhance existing toys or as the building blocks to unleash their creativity.
“We want to help kids build what they’re already imagining and to help kids build whatever they want,” Rosenblatt said.
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