Artist breathes life into interactive teddy bears
Teddybots are new soft toys with online identities designed to spark imaginations
Teddybots co-founder Shane Sutton: Owners of the soft toys can “adopt their bot” and engage with content online
“Way, way, way, out in space a little robot was looking at the stars and dreaming of adventures.” So begins the short YouTube video about Alien Green, a Teddybot about to leave for space. His pals, Pixel Pink, Pilot Purple, Galaxy Grey and Lunar Lavender, are a little jealous, as they like to travel too. But it’s Alien Green’s turn, although he’s somewhat reluctant as space travel gives him a “buzz at the knees”.
Teddybots – plush, robot-shaped little characters – are the brainchild of artist, animator, illustrator and filmmaker Shane Sutton. They are made from soft materials and have two lives: one as an ordinary toy to be cuddled, carried around and taken to bed by children aged from three up, and a second life online where their owners can “adopt their bot” and engage with digital content designed to spark their creativity.
“The Baby Boomers had Barbie, Generation X had the Cabbage Patch Dolls and Generation Y had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We’ve created something for Generation Alpha [those born after 2011] with the Teddybot,” Sutton says. “We have a consignment of 1,000 Teddybots arriving for Christmas and will use the Christmas period to evaluate sales and test market reaction. It is our goal to establish proof and viability of product in order to position ourselves as a good investment opportunity in the New Year. We would like to raise around €250,000 and will use it to grow our product range, employ a bigger team and develop the digital content side of our business.”
Sutton has been hatching the idea for Teddybots since he finished an oil painting of a robot six years ago. “I kept looking at it and thinking it would make a great toy,” he says. “When I was younger I was always drawing cartoon characters and developing comics so I had a bit of form and interest. Eventually I made a prototype and it was really original looking and that’s how this adventure began. Most toys have eyes and facial expressions, happy, sad, or crying. Teddybots have only two eyes which gives them great character.”
Developing the idea
Sutton began working seriously on the idea in 2014 and established the business with co-founder Richard Hanlon last year. They then began the process of trademarking, getting CE certification and finding a manufacturer.
“We worked with a guy with a lot of experience in China and he introduced us to six companies,” Sutton says. “We met and briefed them and gave them exactly the same specification. What was amazing was that they all came up with very different products. The company we went with eventually has been excellent and really helpful and Alien Green is the first of the Teddybot family which will also eventually include Pixel Pink, Pilot Purple, Galaxy Grey and Lunar Lavender.”
Sutton estimates the start-up’s costs in hard cash at about €25,000. “We have spent more time then money,” he says. “It has taken a lot of time to develop the characters, packaging, logistics, and ideas for content and branding. It may seem like a simple soft toy but it’s quite involved with 17 body parts and complex stitching.”
Sutton supported himself during the development process by doing street art commissions and he has also had a small stipend from participating in the New Frontiers entrepreneurs programme at the LINC at Blanchardstown IT. The first order of Teddybots is being financed by what Sutton describes as “a manageable bank loan” and the product will be sold online and in a selected number of shops in Dublin in the run up to Christmas. A Teddybot will retail at between €40 and €45.
“We are launching with a limited edition that comes with an adoption certificate and a toy bag,” Sutton says. “The Teddybot stands at 13in high but weighs only 225g and is made of a super-soft boa fabric making it simple to carry on day trips and to snuggle up to at bedtime. The toys are technology free with no flashing lights, noises or batteries. There are no cameras or microphones that could provide an attack vector for a hacker. This has already been a problem with one toy where the personal information of five million customers was compromised during the breach. We don’t want to create a toy that needs a smartphone to activate it or can listen and learn from what it hears as it builds data about the home it’s in. Although embracing technology, Teddybots live through the magic of children’s imaginations.”
In 2017 the company will begin to roll out the Teddybot’s interactive online identity through which children can build their own stories, music and art content. “Our apps and our storyline content will help children learn creative core skills,” Sutton says. “For example, content can be printed out and coloured on the kitchen table or a child can use the apps to learn to draw and colour. Teddybots come from space and that gives a great background for young adopters to create stories by linking words and playing back animations. We want characters in stories that teach musical scales and define emotions through sounds and words. And we want kids to draw and invent characters and have fun creating the worlds they live in. Our ultimate aim is for Teddybots to be the teddy bear of the digital age.”