Orbotix: Where Mobile Apps and the Toy Industry Collide

Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the June 2012 issue of . Subscribe »

100 Brilliant Companies

Consider the ball. It's a toy to children, rolling prey to dogs and a crucial instrument to athletes.

But for Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, the 28-year-old founders of Denver-based Orbotix, it's the pinnacle of robotics and a prime example of how smartphones will one day interact with the world.

Ballers: (from left) Ian Bernstein, Adam Wilson and Paul Berberian.
Ballers: (from left) Ian Bernstein, Adam Wilson and Paul Berberian.
Photography by Dana Romanoff

Orbotix released its first product, the $130 Sphero, in December 2011. A grapefruit-size orb that connects to iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth, Sphero is, simply, the world's first smartphone-controlled ball. Dreamed up by Bernstein, a robotics whiz, and Wilson, a software hacker and Bluetooth master, the device consists of motors, processors, gyroscopes and accelerometers, which propel it; LED lights, which change its color; and a sturdy polycarbonate shell that can withstand a 6-foot drop onto concrete. 

A variety of apps let users drive, fling, putt and roll Sphero anywhere within a 50-foot range. Another, Chromo, turns the ball into a type of 3-D controller that interacts with a game on a user's handheld device. The Orbotix team believes Sphero has the potential to be a gaming console unto itself, like Xbox.

But that only scratches the surface of its potential. To push things further, Orbotix created a software developers' kit so that others can build apps for the device. Internet videos of users' creations abound, such as one showing the Sphero with theremin-like musical properties.

After watching his 11-year-old play with Sphero, Mark Solon, managing partner of Highway 12 Ventures, wanted in. Brad Feld, managing director of Foundry Group, says the company combines "two things we look for: an amazing product and people who are obsessed with it." (Both Solon and Feld have joined Orbotix's board of directors.)

CEO Paul Berberian met Bernstein and Wilson through the famed TechStars program. "If something needs to be made, they make it," he says. "They're not afraid of any piece of technology." To date, the startup has raised more than $6 million.

The plan now is to refine the hardware platform, create and sell innovative games and see what evolves at the intersection of the $20 billion mobile apps space and the $80 billion toy industry. "It's a blank slate," Berberian says, noting that they've even been approached about using the technology to position airplanes on aircraft carriers. "It's a sign of what's coming." 


More Invention Brilliance

SkyLight: This adapter allows images from any microscope to be transmitted securely via mobile phone.

Inventables: An online hardware store for DIY manufacturing that helps designers, artists and inventors source the materials they need for innovation.

Lytro: This revolutionary camera uses light-field technology to capture images in such fine detail that users can focus and zoom in or out after taking the shot.

Xaxxon Technologies: The Oculus turns any laptop into a remote-controlled telepresence robot.

Ridekick: Bike to work without the sweat. This electric trailer turns your lowly ride into a kickin' motorbike that can reach speeds of 19 mph.

Liquipel: Ship your phone to the HQ in Santa Ana, Calif., and they'll give it a virtually undetectable water-safe coating--without hindering performance.

Kaggle: Bringing crowd-sourcing to heavy data, this website allows scientists to compete to produce the best solutions to presented problems. Corporate sponsors pay prize money in exchange for the intellectual property.

Blu Homes: These green, modular homes are economical to ship and quick to set up. A 3-D configurator lets customers design their dream homes online.

Adafruit Industries: Founded by an MIT engineer, this e-tailer sells cool DIY electronics kits--instrumental in fostering the burgeoning "maker movement."

More from Entrepreneur

Grow Your Business at Entrepreneur LIVE! Join us on Nov. 16 in Brooklyn, NY, to learn from legends like Danica Patrick and Maria Sharapova, pitch our editors, meet with investors, and potentially walk away with funding!
Register here

One-on-one online sessions with our experts can help you start a business, grow your business, build your brand, fundraise and more.
Book Your Session

In as little as seven months, the Entrepreneur Authors program will turn your ideas and expertise into a professionally presented book.
Apply Now

Latest on Entrepreneur

My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.