Don't let the name fool you. Bossa Nova Robotics is actually a toymaker.
Sarjoun Skaff, who founded the company with two other colleagues, was working on his Ph.D. in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He was building a robot for the defense department when he started to think about how he could translate that same technology to create consumer products, specifically toys.
In 2005, Skaff cofounded Bossa Nova Robotics, an offshoot of Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute. But he wasn't in a rush to invade the toy industry. Instead, he went to China and lived there for two years, doing research on toy manufacturing in a bid to find the best maker for his toys. In 2009, the company launched Penbo, a penguin built on similar robotics technology that Skaff worked on for the defense department.
"Penbo waddles. Penbo also interacts with kids through infrared technology and touch sensors," said Skaff. What's more, Penbo carries an egg that opens up into a baby penguin. "With our technology, we created a realistic mother-daughter interaction. And Penbo would talk to her baby and even play hide-and-seek with her," said Skaff.
This year, Bossa Nova Robotics added a new character to the Penbo & Friends line called Skylee, an adorable interactive dragon. Skylee sings, dances, and plays hide-and-seek with her own dragon baby.
There's more. For two years, Skaff and his team have worked on Mechatars, toy robots that become smarter the more often a child plays with them. Skaff said kids can play with Mechatars offline or connect Mechatars to their computer and watch the robotic characters come alive online and play there. "It's a form of blended reality," he said.
Both Skylee and Mechatars just launched at Target, Amazon and Toys R Us nationwide.
"We are robot enthusiasts. We also spend a lot of time understanding kids and how they are playing," said Bossa Nova Robotics cofounder Martin Hitch. "We are creating toys that are truly innovative at prices that parents feel good about."
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