Orbotix Raises $15.5M to Develop Next Generation of Toys

Orbotix remains on a roll, announcing today that it has closed a $15.5 million funding round that the company will use to continue developing the next generation of high-tech toys that bridge the physical and the digital worlds.

Orbotix is best known as the maker of Sphero, the robotic ball that can be controlled with an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The Boulder, CO-based company is a Techstars graduate and has raised a total of $32.6 million since going through the accelerator in 2010, chief operating officer Jim Booth said.

Prior investors the Foundry Group and Highway 12 Ventures participated in the round, while Shea Ventures and Grishin Robotics are new investors, Booth said.

While Orbotix has sold hundreds of thousands of Spheros and introduced a faster version last year, Booth said the company has been looking to move beyond the ball and develop different products.

This fall Orbotix will release Ollie, a two-wheeled tube-shaped robot that the company introduced this January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (it was originally named 2B). Like Sphero, it will be controlled by iOS and Android devices and allow users to program its movements.

By the end of the year, Orbotix plans to have 35 games and more than 30 accessories available for purchase, a release from the company said.

The infusion of cash will help with the product launch, Booth said, but it primarily gives Orbotix the resources to execute on its long-term vision of becoming the leader in what the company calls “connected play.”

“Connected play lives at the intersection between a physical toy, an immersive game experience, and a greater, more meaningful social context, ” Orbotix CEO Paul Berberian said in today’s release. It requires companies to combine elements of consumer electronics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotic hardware when developing new products.

Orbotix board member and Foundry Group managing director Brad Feld explained the idea of connected play and connected toys earlier this year in a blog post, contrasting it with traditional toys and video games.

“It’s not a static toy, like kids have been playing with since the beginning of time. It’s not a game on a pane of glass like an iPhone or iPad,” Feld wrote. “It’s a dynamic toy that you can play with online, via your pane of glass, or in the real world, with friends, connected together online. And it gets upgraded continually, with new software and new games.”

Booth said connected play and connected toys are “an area retailers are looking to to show some new growth and some new life for the category.”

With the fundraising process out of the way, Orbotix now can focus on new product development, deepening its connections with retailers, and expanding into new markets, he said.

“We have a roadmap, and we have products that are in development right now. One of the things this funding gives us is a longer-range horizon,” Booth said. “When you’re a younger startup, you tend to execute toward a shorter horizon with shorter product plans. This gives us the ability to look a little further, to develop products a little deeper. That’s what we’re excited about, that we’re able to do that.”

Booth didn’t give details on what Orbotix is working on beyond Ollie.

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