Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Pittsburgh developing a home for robotic toy makers

Two new robotics toy startups, both Carnegie Mellon University spinouts, are tooling away in Pittsburgh on the next generation of high-tech toys.

Interbots and Bossa Nova Concepts are working behind closed doors in Technology Collaborative spaces on Craig Street, developing family-friendly, emotive robots that they hope to unveil commercially within two years.

“The space we have on Craig is really critical to
our success because of its close proximity to CMU,” explains Sarjoun
Skaff, CTO of Bossa Nova. Internships through CMU offer students
practical experience and help to channel potential new hires Bossa
Nova’s way. “Pittsburgh (seed funding) has been really critical in
putting in place all the pieces of the business.”

Bossa Nova got its start in 2005 and has completed
development of a fascinating, funny toy with lifelike movements and
self-balancing motion. BN is presently developing a manufacturing plan with the help of Skaff, a post-doctorate fellow at The Robotics Institute.

Interbots originated at CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center where
it was a student-led research project before spinning off into a
company in 2005. The company is presently developing a commercial toy
product that conveys emotions, says Sabrina Haskell, Interbots software

Interbots started out specializing in the design
of high-end “custom, interactive characters” that physically and
virtually mingle with the public. Quasi, their first animatronic
character, is quite the celebrity, having appeared on ABC’s Good
Morning America, CBS Evening News, and the Science and Discovery
channels. His little sister, Moxi, was commissioned for the Science Centre Singapore where she chats and interacts with families.

“One of the strengths in Pittsburgh is the great
organizations that are reaching out to young companies,” says Haskell.
“There’s a lot of excitement about a Pittsburgh focus for robotic toys.”

Bossa Nova includes three principal, full-time
employees and six staff on contract. The company is in the process of
hiring an electronic control engineer. Interbots employs four ETC grads.

To read about another Pittsburgh company that has developed a robotic consumer product, Thorley Industries, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Sarjoun Skaff, Bossa Nova Concepts, Sabrina Haskell, Interbots

Image courtesy of Interbots

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