Tech Beat: New tech-toy startup going to Kickstarter to keep iBuku pets in stock
Courtesy Arbor Cube
The toy, called iBuku, can turns the old phones into interactive talking toys and allows children to play in an “adventure mode” that includes stories and games.
“Apple just added a new feature called ‘guided access’ that allows a parent to lock the phone into a single app,” chief creative officer Royce Channey said.
“Kids can get bored quickly in one app, so we built different activities for them to be involved with.”
The guided access feature is designed to allow teachers, parents or companies to “lock” devices that run on Apple’s iOS operating systems in a single app. Channey said that the system makes it possible to turn phones into toys without worrying about children accidentally (or purposefully) causing mischief.
“Parents want to see apps that can use this feature because kids at a young age who are just exploring the phone, you don’t know what they’ll get into,” he said.
“They might open your email, email your boss, or make calls to countries you don’t even know exist.”
The iBuku app is designed to function within a carrying case that is a hybrid mash-up of an indestructible iPhone case, a battery pack and a stuffed animal.
When the app is in “character mode,” imagine a much more high-tech Tickle-Me-Elmo. The screen of the phone turns into the face of one of three Buku characters which blends into the rest of the toy.
In “adventure mode,” children can follow the characters through stories and play interactive games. Channey said he hopes to integrate more educational material into the adventure mode of the app as it expands.
The company has received a rash of publicity recently, being named a top gadget gift by Fitness Magazine and featured on a local TV news station. However, the company’s production capacity isn’t quite ready for the quantity of orders that come with the exposure.
“After we were on TV in Detroit, we ended up selling out of our inventory in two days,” Channey said.
“That’s why we’re on Kickstarter now. We’re trying to improve our tooling and be able to pick up the place and get more product out there.”
The company’s Kickstarter campaign had raised just more than $6,500 of a $25,000 goal as of Wednesday. The campaign ends Dec. 15, and if it is successful it will be the first infusion of outside capital into the company.
Fundraising efforts on Kickstarter are only collected if the company reaches its self-set goal. Without that money, Channey said his group would be forced to continue bootstrapping as they attempt to step up production.
“Right now it’s all been funded by the co-founders and a few friends of ours,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot of work and right now we have to fork over all of the money for software development, parts, packaging and testing [to be approved as kid-friendly]. It’s all fronted out of our pockets.”
That investment has run up a tab of close to $100,000 between the co-founders and a few small outside investments from friends and family.
The iBuku app is free for the moment on the Apple store. Channey said the company might charge for future iterations of the app or add-ons to help with revenue and customer buy-in.
The company is in the process of acquiring patents for its hardware and intellectual property rights for the software it is creating. Channey said the toys are currently produced in China, but that he hopes to bring the manufacturing back to the United States.
“We actually went to an American supplier, but they took it to China because that was the only place that had the type of machines and processes we needed,” he said.
Arbor Cube also donates a portion of its proceeds to charitable organizations and is looking into partnering with local autism groups to see if the toys could be used for helping autistic children play safely with advanced technology.