Kazakh engineer builds revolutionary LEGO-like toy robot30 september 2015, 12:48
The creators of Robo Wunderkind, a robot kit for children, intend to break into the market currently dominated by LEGO, one of the most powerful brands in the world, one of the founders of Robo Technologies startup told Tengrinews.
©Robo Technologies, Inc
Robo Wunderkind, or simply Robo, consists of various cubes, which can be assembled into a small robot. Robo cubes have motors and sensors integrated in them. Every cube has its own function. Robo reminds us of a futuristic version of LEGO.
Even a 5-year-old will be able to compile and program a robot. With Robo, kids will be able to learn the basics of robotics and programming in a fun way. "We want to become the new LEGO. We believe that children should play not just with toys made of plastic but with toys that bring added benefit," said the creator of Robo Rustem Akishbekov, who founded Robo Technologies, Inc at the age of 19.
It is worth noting that Robo has entered the world market already. Pre-orders can be places through Robo’s Kickstarter page.
"I was always fond of technology while studying at KTL [Kazakh Turkish Lyceum for Gifted Children] and Mechanics and Mathematics program at KazNU [Al-Farabri Kazakh National University]. At the Vienna University of Technology I started creating robots using Arduino platform and saw that my friends were also interested in joining in, but at the time there was no easy way to learn the basics of electronics and programming. I decided to create a robot which would require little effort to assemble and program, even for a child," Rustem said about the days when the idea was born.
It took Rustem a month and about $55 to make the first prototype of the robot. “I made it from wood using a laser cutter. I bought microcontrollers for it. I controlled it from a computer using a USB cable,” said Rustem in his interview.
One of the first prototypes of Robo. ©Robo Technologies, Inc
In 2013, hearing about a contest for Kazakhstani startups Build Your Business, Rustem offered Yuri Levin, another Kazakhstani living in Vienna, to work together on the concept. They entered the competition but didn’t win the first prize. However, they were one of the top five contestants out of the 150 total and received a grant of $10,000.
“The first investment by Kenges Rakishev [a Kazakhstani billionaire] was something like angel investment for our company. It was the very first investment in our project and helped us a lot at that very early stage of the project: served as something of a springboard into the world of technology. Thanks to this money, we created prototypes of robots that were then tested by children. It was very important for us, as we got the feedback, which helped us improve our robot,” Rustem told Tengrinews.
Later on the team set a goal to get into a startup accelerator program by Disney, the leading manufacturer of toys. Disney got interested in Robo, but after 10 Skype interviews it declined the application.
Shortly after though, fortune smiled on Rustem and his team and they were noticed by SOS Ventures, an American foundation. SOS Ventures invited the Robo team to move to Shenzhen, China, the world capital of electronics. In fact the foundation created all the conditions necessary for the team to set up production of their smart toy-robots in China. According to Forbes.kz, during that time the startup received around $200,000 from different angel investors. Thanks to that, the team was able to partner up with a factory that produces auto parts for the Lamborghini brand in order to create high quality parts for its new toy line.
©Robo Technologies, Inc
In 2014 Robo won the Robotic Award 2014 in Vienna. The concept of giving a homemade robot a life with an app impressed the jury of the award. Indeed, an assembled Robo can be programed and controlled via an app installed on a smartphone or tablet. A device communicates with Robo via Bluetooth technology. The possibilities for Robos’ executable actions are endless and depend on one’s creativity. One can program a Robo to move from one room to another and deliver a verbal message, for example, or build a remote control car. "It’s important for us to be the first who sells this toy. If we do, the ownership of intellectual property rights will be ours," the founder said.
On September 21-23, 2015 Robo’s team took part in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield contest at the Disrupt SF conference, competing against other startup technology companies for a chance to win $50,000. Fewer than 2.5% of the applicants of the competition got as far as being on stage, but Robo Technologies made the cut.
Rustem Akishbekov at TechCrunch event. Photo courtesy of Robo Technologies, Inc
Robo did not win the contest, but its team made the right move by launching a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter on the same date as the TechCrunch contest. The exposure that Robo received at this highly anticipated and attended event, truly kickstarted the fundraising campaign of the company.
The startup needs to raise $70,000 in order to produce its first batch of Robos. It raised over $34,000 on pre-sales of Robos within the first 8 days following the launch of its Kickstarter campaign. There were pre-orders from the US, Europe, and Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, Robo Technologies plan to target mainly the United States’ high-tech toy market. The founder of Robo believes that Robos will be very popular there due to US’ tech boom.
It is a well-known fact that, the US is one of the biggests hubs for innovations and technological advancement. San Francisco area along with Silicon Valley is full of angel investors always in search of the next Facebook or other money-generating ideas. No wonder why Robo’s team decided to be based in San Francisco (its second office is based in Vienna, Austria) and target Americans as its main clients. Americans were the ones who gave this project the biggest push (SOS Ventures, as mentioned above) and mainly the Americans will benefit from the skills learned by their kids from playing with the revolutionary toy-robots.
Robo’s Super Early Bird Special Rate starts at $79 for Robo Wunderkind Starter Kit consisting of 9 cubes, while its retail rate will amount to $129 in summer of 2016. The Advanced Kit consisting of 15 cubes will cost $249, while the Professional Kit consisting of 25 cubes, a digital camera, and a weather sensor will cost $399. “We need not go over the rate of $130 for a starter kit. This is a competitive rate. Typically, such high-tech toys cost around $100-150,” Rustem said.
Rustem is planning on selling Robos in Kazakhstan as well, a Tengrinews correspondent reports. Such rates, however, are not something an average Kazakhstani family can afford; not when the average income is $440 (at the rate of 1 USD = 270 KZT). Nevertheless, because Kazakhstan strives to diversity its export products and move away from solely oil-driven economy, it would not be a bad idea to invest heavily into development of robotics industry and start retaining and engaging with highly talented youths like Rustem or members of his team.
Rustem’s team members and co-founders are Anna Iarotska from Ukraine, a graduate of London School of Economics, who is responsible for business processes, and Yuri Levin from Kazakhstan, an industrial designer.
Yuri Levin, Anna Iarotska, and Rustem Akishbekov. Photo courtesy of Robo Technologies, Inc
Robo Technologies team hasn’t been offered to work in Kazakhstan yet. However, we hope to see them all here leading robotics and innovative tech projects and inspiring the young generations to follow their dreams. We are wishing them good luck in raising the funds needed for the first mass production of Robos, which is scheduled for the end of this year.
By Aidana Ramazanova