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How They Roll

Robot Balls--that is, computerized spheres that can be rolled in any direction by touching a smartphone--are ready to take over the world.
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This story appears in the October 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Entrepreneurs: Ian Bernstein, a former robot builder for RoadNarrows Robotics in Loveland, Colo., and Adam Wilson, who graduated from Northern Colorado University with math and physics degrees in May.

What possessed them: The challenge of creating a toy that, Bernstein says, had never been made before. "We can make a remote-control car in a day that we could sell that day. Really not that hard. But I've never seen a robotic ball."

Startup: A few thousand dollars from Bernstein's dad got things rolling. Then Bernstein and Wilson were accepted to TechStars, a seed capital and mentorship program in Boulder, Colo., that supplied $12,000. In July, they secured an undisclosed amount from angel investors.

Hello, Google: Bernstein and Wilson envision large corporations using the balls as a branded marketing tool (say, giving one away with a smartphone purchase). No official takers yet, but an unnamed web conglomerate that currently controls the internet and a major dedicated server company have expressed interest.

Customers: The balls are still a few months away from coming to market under the Gearbox brand. But Wilson predicts "pet owners, for sure," will be interested.

2011 and beyond: Robot Balls are Android only, but Bernstein and Wilson plan to open their platform to--they hope--a flock of developers to create Robot Ball apps for other smartphone platforms.

"Aha" moment: One day while sitting around a table talking all things electronic, Bernstein decided that he wanted something that he could throw and have it "do something cool." And Robot Balls were born.

Media love: Cubicle dwellers, take note: I Can Has Cheezburger founder Ben Huh, an acquaintance of the duo, has offered to post a sure-to-be-viral video of Wilson's cat batting around a Robot Ball. "I know a few people in the cat space, if you will," Bernstein says.

 

Edition: May 2017

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