I’ve been living under a rock. The Sphero by Orbotix has been around for some time, and is worth checking out for a very cool glimpse of the future of Arkinetics™. Yes, I said it, “Arkinetics™”, the marriage of AR and Kinetics. Using Bluetooth messaging good for 50 feet, the clever team at Orbotix in Boulder has created a robotic sphere that can be manipulated via your Apple iPhone or Android smartphone to amaze old ladies in grocery stores, play fetch with Fido without getting the glob on your hands, and let kids play games of dexterity on AR playgrounds. I like this idea due to its simplicity, which is apropos for emerging technology. The team was smart enough to create an open platform for developers to create their own games / value propositions. Right now, this is no more than a novelty. Kids can roll a ball to knock down bowling pins the old fashioned way, right? (But can their Mom do so with them from a hotel room in Tokyo?) I did not see any press releases on their site related to venture investment, but I did see a lot of cool factor recognition. Right now its just a candidate for Smarter Image, and hopefully not competing on the same shelf with the wireless Ferrari.
You can think back to how another robotic company branched out from their original robotic vacuum cleaner product, into defense and healthcare and who knows what else is on their agenda. On the face of it, and without any insight into their team or IP, I think this is the appropriate way to look at a company like Orbotix. Its not what the Sphero does now that counts, its what the team may do in the future. What applications are there for a low cost, handheld, remotely manipulated robot? Companies like this, that may not have a ton of funding (I have no idea if they do), but have a committed and passionate team are what start-ups are all about. They’ll live and breathe the monetization problem until they either come up with a eureka moment, or go on to apply their lessons learned at another outfit with a different vision. In all probability linking together mobility, AR and robotics will be more than just cool when a few more things fall into place. Can you ruggedize it more somehow? Can you attach lasers? Can you embed more robust sensors and a camera? Can you add magnetic strips to the outside of the sphere and create a hovering cover that gets left behind? Can you use an ultra-wideband chip to create an ad hoc network of Arkinetic drones? Will it receive verbal commands? What about changing the form factor completely? This is all top of mind. Seeing something like this opens the flood gates of possibilities, and no idea is too out there. That’s what great about start-ups. Whatever the future for the Sphero, these guys can say they were at the forefront of Arkinetics™. In the meantime, you can get some free beers by showing the crowd at the pub how you can move that orange with your mind.