March 13, 2013

Startup turns a smartphone into a smart toy

Unveiled at Launch, Ubooly shows power of sensor technology (and hugs)

Target audience: Entrepreneurs, technologists, designers, marketing professionals, businesses, toy manufacturers, parents.

JD LasicaAt last week’s Launch Festival in San Francisco, I spent a few minutes talking with Carly Gloge, the founder and CEO of a new startup called Ubooly. They make cuddly plush toys that you can personalize and interact with through your iPhone or iPod Touch. (You stick the device inside the toy.) It’s for kids ages 4 to 9.

Carly gave one of the more dynamic presentations on stage at Launch, so I caught up with her after her demo. Ubooly is out “to make toys smart,” she said. Smart devices, starting with the iPhone and iPod Touch, have become “so powerful compared to anything else that has been put in toys. So we thought, let’s merge the two.”

Voilà! The Ubooly (pronounced OO-buh-lee, which I finally pronounced right by the end of the video). What’s cool about this is:

• Children form an emotional bond with these toys that they’ll carry with them for years;

• Parents get to program the toy via the online Ubooly Lab, starting with setting up their child’s favorite color, animal and sports. From there, the parents can activate educational packs that seem best suited to their little one.

Ubooly launched with six packs — written by elementary school teachers and comedy writers — and will expand to 20 by the end of the month, Carly says.

Watch, download or embed the 4-minute video on Vimeo

Powerful personalization built on sensor technology + smartphones

Ubooly and the National Wildlife Federation just struck a deal for Ranger Rick packs that enable kids to take part in local treasure hunts

Sensor technology like fitness gadget Fitbit, which launched at TechCrunch50 in 2008, is becoming all the rage in startup circles. With smartphones, the potential for personalization is almost infinite.

Ubooly just lined up a deal with the National Wildlife Federation so that the startup will soon offer a Ranger Rick pack that enable kids to take part in treasure hunts in their communities through the use of geolocation coordinates.

Ubooly has six core team members in Boulder, Colo., and another 14 or so contractors around the globe. My kid’s too old for Ubooly, but I have some nieces whose kids are just the right age. How about you?JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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