Dynepic Hits Home Run with SensiBots: the Internet of Toys

Many kids these days are glued to mobile devices while playing games that teach them educational lessons. Charleston startup, Dynepic, is developing the coolest engineering toy for kids—SensiBots—bringing education in the form of robots controlled by mobile devices, to create the “Internet of Toys.”

ABOUT SENSIBOTS

SensiBots are a family of fun wirelessly controlled toy robots for kids five and up that each have their own distinct personality, form, and sense. The robots have environmental sensors that include light, temperature, sound, acceleration, color, proximity, and gravity. Each robot has its own distinct character and ability. For example, Newton is a Gravitybot that measures gravity (acceleration) and likes to be shot into the air. Blaze is a TempBot that measures temperature and loves to help.

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SensiBots family of robots with Command Center on iPad.

The cool thing about SensiBots is unlike any other wirelessly controlled toys; these robots talk to each other. The SensiBots communicate with one another through a mobile device such as iPads and Android tablets using Bluetooth Low Energy. The sensory data is displayed through the SensiBot’s screen and a kid-friendly mobile app called the Command Center. The graphical interface of the app teaches kids computer science and engineering lessons by controlling the robots using IFTT (If This Then That) values.

Kids can using SensiBots together in a fun way that will teach them programming skills. Here’s a scenario: Using a wireless network, kids can create a wireless monitoring and control area that will detect sibling intrusion and make all the SensiBots in the room play an alert when MotionBot senses movement in their room. “Kids want to protect their space. They’re going to have to learn a little bit of computer science along the way to set it up. They’re going to get smarter and motivated by trying to protect their toys,” said founder Krissa Watry.

DIG SOUTH
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Krissa Watry, Founder of SensiBots, and Zenko Klapko Jr., software programmer, hold the winning check from Dig South’s Wild Pitch.

Watry recently won the Wild Pitch for Startups competition against seven other startups at the Dig South Interactive Festival when she pitched her idea for SensiBots to a panel of expert judges in front of a live audience. She took home the prize of $10,000 from Cap A Partners which was matched by Patrick Bryant, founder of the Harbor Accelerator, and Burt Golinski of Rebel Capital Advisors for a total award of $30,000.

After winning the competition, Watry said, “It was cool to compete against other startup companies. This was my first Dig South. It was incredible to see the turnout for it. I’m sure it was exciting for everyone in the audience. It was really, really neat to hear about the judges bantering back and forth about the teams—like a Shark Tank feel. I’m glad they understood our ‘Internet of Toys’ concept.”

Watry was a member of the Harbor Accelerator’s cohort of startups and had been working with them for fourteen weeks before pitching at the event.

THE IDEA

Watry left her job as a rocket scientist and teamed up with Jaqueline Arn who has thirty-five years of experience in early childhood education. Their goal is to solve what’s known as the national STEM crisis with what kids know best—toys.

Despite technology’s increasing saturation of our every day lives, children in the US are not adequately prepared for careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Several initiatives taking place currently focus primarily on older students, middle school through college, with not enough emphasis on quality STEM education for students in PreK-6. SensiBots helps lay the foundation for STEM education in children in kindergarten and elementary grades with a mission to help them succeed before they have a fixed mindset about what they are good at. Because kids will look at them as toys, young children will engage with SensiBot to explore the world around them. This early exposure to STEM foundational knowledge and skills will likely foster long-term interest and higher level study in these subject areas.

Watry was exploring wireless building controls and monitoring when she came up with the idea for SensiBots. “Technology today exists to wirelessly link up everyday items and be able to monitor them. So why aren’t we doing this? In a lot of my research on wireless building controls, it was just evident that not much work has been done and adults are slow to adopt technology. That’s why we applied it to kids.”

SensiBots also shows data that kids can learn from by displaying true measurements in comparison to other toys on the market that force you to use the value that they are measuring: “I thought, ‘What if we can actually show that data and kids can learn from it?’ They’re not just getting an on or off, they’re getting so many decibels and then they can learn what limits they want to set. At the same time they’re learning what decibels are and they’re learning about measuring sound waves in a learning experience.”

Kids will also get pushed in challenges and tasks that they have to complete in order to receive points or badges for accomplishing a mission. Adventure kits with storybook adventures will provide storyline-based instructions for each SensiBot that walk the kids through the missions or tasks they have loaded.

All of the SensiBot storyline adventures, missions, and tasks are mapped to the National Science Education Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core Curriculum.

THE NEXT STEP

The SensiBots team plans to work on detailed design preproduction and a custom implementation to build out the structure and framework for the cloud and the app. They will launch a pre-sale campaign and demo in November with plans to go into full production for SensiBots to be on the market next year.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Watry shared her advice for the new entrepreneurs and startups in Charleston:

“The biggest thing is don’t try to do everything yourself. Go out and get engaged in the network of folks out there, whether it’s Tech After 5, the Digital Corridor, or getting into the Harbor Accelerator. There’s a lot of people in the local area that want to help. Getting out there and talking to people – you’ll get your idea flushed out there a lot faster and meet a lot of people who can help you. If you think you have a good idea, go ask 100 people if they would pay money for it. Make sure the market wants what you’re putting your time and effort into.”

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