For the last few weeks, tech writers across the country have received a couple e-mails a day that read something like this: "I am an entrepreneur and am doing the FIRST KICKSTARTER IN CANADA, and I want you to do a story on us."
Indeed, on Monday September 9, Kickstarter projects launch in Canada. There are several "FIRST" Canadian creators and entrepreneurs with ideas or businesses you can start pledging money to.
We aren't about to index them all for you, that's what Kickstarter is for (although, yes, there's a Canadian project to build a better hockey stick). But there are a lot of interesting ideas, and quite a few child-focused ones. There's even one cute little robot that has already reached its funding goal.
In that vein, there is one intriguing piece of gear called the LUMO (Editor's note: LUMO's Kickstarter is now live, at the time of this story's original publication it was still under review). It's the first consumer product from Winnipeg-based PO-MOtion Interactive, a startup that does bespoke motion-controlled projector installations for museums, advertisers and concerts.
If you've ever seen one of those projected images, on walls or floors, that you can interact with just by waving your arms or stomping your feet (see examples from SXSW here, and here) then you know what PO-Motion does. The LUMO is designed to bring that experience out of the mall, or the museum, and put it in your living room, playroom or even your child's bedroom.
CEO Megan Athavale is looking to raise $200,000 so her company can make 150 ceiling-mounted LUMOs, with the first batch promises to be ready before Christmas. Like many Kickstarter drives, you can contribute a small amount because you'd like to see the project get funded (in return for stickers, posters or T-shirt prizes). Or you could pony up $475 or $500 and get a working system.
There are certainly other projector-based toys that are a lot cheaper, a crude comparison would be something like this. One of the keys to LUMO's appeal is that it will allow children and parents to add their own artwork and create their own projection games using PO-MOtion's web-based software.
The PO-MOtion software lets kids drag and drop pictures they draw, make their own hockey or soccer games, maze games and more. "When I was a kid imaginative play was a really big deal (making forts, being pirates…)," says Ms. Athavale. "This furthers that. They can make their own environment."
There are very few toys of any description that focus on user-generated software. One could point to SMART Technologies equipment for educators, but those units are not consumer-focused and cost thousands of dollars.
"What we found is that most [projector] products for kids are heavily branded, and licensed," says Ms. Athavale, limiting their appeal to lovers of big characters like Dora the Explorer or Mickey Mouse.
PO-MOtion is a six-person team more philosophically of the "maker" tradition than the hacker-businessman startup culture. Ms. Athavale and her co-founder met while toiling away on "crappy" flash games for Manitoba Cabinet ministries (on ideas like teaching new immigrants some of our services and cultural norms through an online game). In their spare time, they were learning how to hack off-the-shelf web cameras into motion sensors and "started designing stuff that was more audience controlled."
At first the company gave away the software they wrote to power their creations, and tried to make money selling the games they made on top of that platform, essentially a freemium or app store model. But, even with the fantastically low overhead of operating in Manitoba, that is a terrible way to make money unless you are selling a huge volume of games. On the counsel of several investment advisors they started licensing their software and working with all manner of advertisers and clients. They found themselves in the black just a few months after that strategic reboot.
In a roundabout way, the LUMO is a return to their earlier roots. "This is a passion project, which is why we are launching it on Kickstarter… we don't know how successful it is going to be, we don't know if other people are going to want it… but we know we wanted to make it," says Ms. Athavale
A year ago, the cost of the LUMO would have been four times as high, with Pico projector boards driving up the costs. Now, many of the components have fallen in price making the opportunity too compelling to resist.
"We want to make it really badly," says Ms. Athavale. Her team were originally content creators, and no offence to their commercial clients, but finding ways to sell soup isn't as interesting as finding ways to amuse and educate children.
"I have a son and there are a lot of kids on my street, we have street parties and I'll bring the projector home … I beta-tested a lot on the kids. They are just way more fun to work with."
This is a true experiment for the company: LUMO doesn't cast an obvious halo on its advertising client business, nor does Ms. Athavale want to suddenly be a small-scale manufacturer and sell thousands of LUMOs in an online store.
"At the end of the Kickstarter we'll have a final production prototype to take to places like toy fairs," says Ms. Athavale. Then PO-MOtion will see if there are partnerships that would help get LUMO to mass-market retail. If that goes nowhere, the 150 available through Kickstarter may be the only LUMOs around for quite a while (they have entertained the idea of doing more if pledges go far beyond their funding goals).
"None of us got into this for the money," says Ms. Athavale. "We all care about play… in general I think people need to play more, and create and share and imagine more."
One playful idea she'd like to try if they can make the LUMO into a success? A game that makes cleaning your room a pre-condition to playing (and the sensors in the LUMO will know if you just stack your clothes on the bed). For that alone, tech-savvy parents might wish PO-MOtion good luck.