Foundry Group Invests in Orbotix

by Brad Feld

We recently led an investment in Orbotix, a Boulder, Colorado company that graduated from the TechStars Boulder 2010 program, Orbotix is creating a new game platform that combines common physical objects, smart phones, and a software marketplace. Their first product will “reinvent the ball” through the creation of a robotic ball controlled by a smart phone.

As we’ve explored the theme of human computer interaction, we’ve observed the incredible opportunity to integrate ordinary toys with computers.  The ball is one such object as it is an extremely versatile and popular toy.  However, up to this point, attempts to do clever electronic things with balls have been limited to simple things like incorporating motion-sensing blinking LEDs into the ball.

Orbotix (previously called Gearbox) was one of the teams in this year’s TechStars Boulder program.  The co-founders Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson are genius-level hardware and software hackers who have been working on robotic control systems for years.  Early in the TechStars program they decided to see if they could create a robotic ball that was controlled remotely by a smart phone.  This is an extremely tricky piece of software and hardware engineering.  With smart phones, much of the computing power is transferred to the phone. As a result, Ian and Adam were able to take a fresh and unique approach to the mechanical control system in the ball.

The result is magical.  Three months ago Ian and Adam put up a simple video on Youtube showing them remotely controlling a ball with a smart phone.

One of Ian and Adam’s TechStars mentors was Paul Berberian, a multiple-time entrepreneur and long term friend of Foundry Group.  Brad previously sat on the board of Paul’s second company, Raindance Communications, which went public in 2000 and was ultimately acquired by West Corporation.  As Paul got to know Ian and Adam the three of them began discussing teaming up.  By the end of the summer, Paul had decided to join the company as CEO.

Orbotix expects to get to a production level unit by the end of the year with product availability in 2011.  In addition to the physical hardware, Orbotix is creating an API layer that allows anyone to write software that controls the ball.  Furthermore, Orbotix plans to release a series of games for multiple players, including racing and sumo type games.