After a serendipitous meeting at the Vivid Festival in Sydney, Adelaide-based 3D software and printing startup, Makers Empire, and US-based robotic toy company, Sphero, recognised a unique opportunity to collaborate on a new project that would allow kids to exercise their inherent creativity and design accessories to go with their phone-controlled cylindrical toy robot, Ollie. We’re not talking about designing in the form of squiggles on a piece of paper; we’re talking sophisticated three-dimensional designs created on an application.
Roland Peddie, Co-Founder and CTO of Makers Empire told Startup Daily that there are clear synergies between Makers Empire and Sphero – both companies offer high-tech products with a combined educational and entertainment focus. As such, forming a partnership was a no-brainer. Together, the companies have co-created the Ollie Customizer app, available on iTunes and Google Play, and developed specifically for the use of Sphero’s popular connected toy Ollie.
The app was built on top of Makers Empire’s existing 3D design platform. Users of all ages can customise and create unique accessories and order them to be printed and delivered for under $50.
“Mohawks and camera mounts are a given, I’d say, but I’m very curious what kind of wacky genius comes out of the Ollie community. We’ll be encouraging creativity with some competitions along the way,” says Peddie.
“I’m keen to see how Australian designers will stack up against the rest of the world. The kids from Makers Empire Lighthouse schools will have a head start for sure.”
Australian schools will get a head start as Makers Empire’s original 3D printing app has already been licensed to over a dozen schools across the nation.
“Once teachers see how engaged the students get, it’s a pretty compelling proposition. Getting the first meeting with the decision makers can be challenging but it’s getting easier as awareness grows about our product and 3D printing,” says Peddie.
Australia is also a great testing ground for the app, according to Peddie. Makers Empire’s connections with its Lighthouse Schools allows the company to run early classes and refine the product, prior to international expansion.
At the moment, Makers Empire will take a portion from custom manufactured accessories, in addition to AUD$1.29 (or USD$0.99) charged for each downloaded design.
The partnership between Sphero and Makers Empire is also smart from a strategic standpoint. The latter company will be able to expand faster into the US, a market that the former company has gained a firm foothold on. At the same time, Sphero is able to leverage Makers Empire’s technology and add greater value to its consumers. It’s a mutually-beneficial synergistic partnership.
Peddie says Makers Empire is looking to work with more brands and companies whose products can be expanded with 3D printing, especially if there is relevance to education. Makers Empire is also keen on forming strategic partnerships with EduTech companies around the world to help expand the company’s Learning Program for design and 3D printing into more schools and “help prepare kids for the jobs of tomorrow”.
What’s fantastic about the Sphero-Makers Empire collaboration is its potential impact on future generations. Sphero co-founder and CTO, Ian Bernstein told The Australian earlier this year that connected toys are “an awesome, creative way to teach kids basic programming”.
At the same time, 3D printing, which is still an enigma to many adults, is an industry that is expected to grow to nearly USD$16 billion by 2018 and large companies like Hewlett-Packard are reacting fast to this market potential through the launch of easy-to-use 3D printers.
To have the toy manufacturing and 3D printing companies come together and co-create accessible products means that future generations are better poised for careers in design and technology. It’s through toys that children can gain an understanding of the world – and as we all know, first impressions count. This is why Barbie dolls are considered problematic for young girls and body image. It may sound far-fetched, but making design and programming fun and accessible through everyday toys has the potential to shape the future – as long as the advertising of those products is on par, and inclusive of both girls and boys.
Featured Image: Makers Empire team. Source: Provided.