The world of connected toys has so far a bit of a let down for me, not because the toys aren’t fun, but because they are both expensive and many of them don’t seem to be all that engaging for long-term play. But ATOMS Express out of Boulder, Colo. are hoping to tweak the toy market with a sensor-based electronics toy set the company plan to launch on Kickstarter.
Called ATOMS, the toys are sets of inputs, a logic unit and outputs. You can mix and match different units so when a sensor-triggering event happens the logic board tells whatever output device is plugged into it to take action. The units themselves are pieces of plastic and are designed to be built into LEGO structures, screwed onto projects or sewn into costumes. For example one of the first Kickstarter projects you could buy is a “Magic Wand” which contains an accelerometer input and an light output (see picture above). Thus, when you wave “the wand” with the accelerometer ATOM attached, an output ATOM lights up.
Michael Rosenblatt, the founder of the project, who has been working on the prototypes for the last three and half weeks, says the idea came to him after he heard an NPR interview with a 12-year-old girl talking about how she and her engineer dad built a fish tank that played songs when the fish swam past a sensor-based trigger. Rosenblatt thought it was awesome, but realized that most kids don’t have parents who are engineers. He wanted to make something that encourages kids to interact with electronics, but might not have tech-savvy parents or have the skill set on their own.
So Rosenblatt, who is the father of a 14-month-old girl and has a day job, decided to start building ATOMS. In many ways they are similar to LittleBits (see disclosure), a company building a similar sensor-based building system, although that stuff seems a bit more complicated and geared at an older crowd. Rosenblatt says his company has raised $70,000 in seed funding from a variety of angels and plans to use the Kickstarter to campaign to gain at least $100,000 in additional funds for building out prototypes that would be ready next June.
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The Kickstarter campaign has the dual goals of raising money and connecting with an audience. Rosenblatt also noted that he closed his seed round of financing ahead of the launch of the Kickstarter campaign in hopes that a successful fundraising effort there might improve the valuation of the company. Thus, not only is this an example of a cool toy, but another sign that Kickstarter is not only a source of funding and community-building for creative projects but is also a powerful way of marketing startups and their ideas.
Disclosure: LittleBits is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.