Mod Robotics creates buzz on Kickstarter

BOULDER – Modular Robotics Inc. would have launched its new Moss robot construction kits with or without a crowdfunding campaign. The four-year-old company already had landed $3 million in Foundry Group venture funding last summer, so raising startup funds wasn’t the issue.

The Kickstarter campaign launched Thursday was all about generating buzz. And that it did. As of 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the campaign had drawn more than $77,000 in pledges in just seven and one-half hours.

“We just wanted to launch on Kickstarter because it’s a great way to reach lots of people without spending a lot of money on advertising,´ said Eric Schweikardt, Modular Robotics co-founder, chief executive and design director.

Schweikardt noted that the early infusion of cash obviously doesn’t hurt. He said $100,000 was chosen as the Kickstarter goal for Moss because it was a number the company felt could be reached in 24 hours and grab attention. Internally, the company is hoping to see $1 million in pledges before the five-week campaign ends.

Those who donate to the campaign get the first crack at owning Moss kits. A donation level of $59, for instance, gets donators a simple starter kit, while an advanced kit can be had for $379, $20 below what retail price will be once the product starts shipping in January or February.

The Moss kits include a variety of plastic modules with magnets embedded in the corners for connection points. There are a variety of module types, such as sensors and motors. The faces are color-coded to indicate their function: blue for data output, green for data input, etc. Users snap the modules together however they want not only to configure the physical body of the robot but also to program its behavior.

Some of the Moss kits are Bluetooth-enabled so that the robots can interact with mobile devices. Different apps can make a smartphone a robot remote control or allow it to reprogram your Moss – so named in homage to the way individual moss varieties in the British Columbia forest combined to create any number of textures and colors, impressing Schweikardt while there on a mountain biking trip last summer.

“It’s unique right now because it lets you build robots without programming and without wiring,” Schweikardt said. “The design possibilities are infinite.”

Moss isn’t Modular Robotics’ first product.

Founded in 2009, Modular Robotics has sold Cubelets, a different type of robot construction kit, for a couple of years now. The company will do about $1 million in revenue this year strictly from Cubelets sales.

Modular Robotics and its 40 employees are based in Boulder at 3085 Bluff St. All design and manufacturing are done in-house.

Modular Robotics is a spinoff from Schweikardt’s Ph.D. work in computational design at Carnegie Mellon University. He and former adviser Mark D. Gross co-founded the company. Both had ties to Boulder, with Schweikardt earning his bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Colorado and Gross being a former professor at CU. Much of the company’s early funding came from National Science Foundation grants that allowed Schweikardt and Gross to hire staff and make prototypes.

Schweikardt said Moss components for mass production will arrive at the Modular Robotics facility in mid-December. The company will fulfill its kickstarter pledges first before beginning direct sales on the company’s website.

Schweikardt said Moss will be in stores sometime in the second quarter of next year with hopes of a big 2014 holiday season. But Tuesday’s Kickstarter campaign in some ways already felt like Christmas.

“It’s pretty fun watching the numbers tick by,” Schweikardt said. “We’re all kind of excited and responding to a lot of information requests and interests.”

For a video of the product, click here.

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