HEXBUGs Trio Plays With TechnologyInnovation First's Miniature Robots Appeal to All Ages
If a robot toy were crossed with an insect, what would you get? A HEXBUG! For Innovation First, the result has been a sellout, with demand overwhelming supply in the products’ first year.
COMPONENT PARTS INSPIRE
“The power of observation is important to succeed,” Joel Carter, vice president of marketing at Innovation First, told TDmonthly Magazine, explaining that the inspiration for HEXBUGs came because of a long line at a robotics trade show. “We saw people waiting to pay big bucks for a bag full of component parts and an instruction sheet on how to build robot bugs that didn’t do much. We knew we could do better cost-wise and come up with a cooler product.”
Getting from the initial idea to actual production took nine months. The company introduced the HEXBUG in spring 2007 and sold more than 1.5 million units by year end.
“HEXBUGs were a runaway success that we had not anticipated,” Joel said.
ROOTED IN ROBOTICS
Innovation First began producing electronics for robots in 1996. Today, the company is an industry leader in hobby, competition and education robotics, as well as a developer of consumer robotics toys. In addition to HEXBUGs, Innovation First produces the Vex Robotics Design System, the top-selling robotics platform in middle and high schools.
Using robotics as learning tools is big in schools, and robotics competitions are extremely popular. In 2008, for example, more than 1,500 U.S. and international student teams competed in the annual FIRST Championship — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — by building and operating their own robots from a kit.
Robotevents.com, co-sponsored by Innovation First, is one resource that exists to connect students, mentors and schools to a variety of engaging, technology-based programs.
“Robots are not solely for play, but also help students learn about science and technology,” Joel told TDmonthly. “They tap into today’s generation that has a high comfort level with computers, as well as the desire to build things and problem-solve in an eloquent way.”
MOVEMENT AND DESIGN FASCINATE
The original HEXBUG, in blue, was introduced through Radio Shack and flew off the shelves at $9.99. “Its appeal comes from its fascinating movements — it’s the gadget factor,” Joel told TDmonthly. And it wasn’t just boys. Girls also wanted them, inspiring the introduction of a hot pink version. “It appeals [to ages] 8 to 80.”
Part of HEXBUGs’ fascination comes from an underlying design goal Joel describes as “guts out.” All the moving parts are visible through the faceted translucent shell, so that people can see the linkages, drives and even circuit boards in action. “Our objective was to have people look at it and say, ‘It’s a little robot that resembles a bug.’ We wanted it to be more fantasy than realistic.”
The original HEXBUG has been followed by the Inchworm and the Crab. Priced at under $20, Joel believes the toys’ strong value-to-price ratio, particularly in the current economy, is another factor in their success. He also attributes strong sales to distinctive packaging and displays designed to be placed beside the register to promote impulse purchasing.
“Kids like small and cool gadgets and are wild for robots,” he said. And Innovation First will keep providing them, indicated Joel, who hinted that new robots will be introduced at Toy Fair 2009.
See the HEXBUGs and other items from Innovation First:
The micro-robotic HEXBUG is a tiny, obedient insect that features bump-sensor feelers that help it avoid objects in its path. It responds to clapping or other loud noise by backing up or changing direction. The HEXBUG is small enough to fit in the hand and comes in five different body types and colors including pink, blue, green, yellow and orange. Awards: TDmonthly Innovations 2008. — During a September 2010 survey, two of 44 retailers listed Hexbugs as their top-seller for tweens. Specialty Retailers, have this be your link
The micro-robotic HEXBUG is a tiny, obedient insect that features bump-sensor feelers that help it avoid objects in its path. It responds to clapping or other loud noise by backing up or changing direction. The HEXBUG is small enough to fit in the hand and comes in five different body types and colors including pink, blue, green, yellow and orange. Awards: TDmonthly Innovations 2008.
— During a September 2010 survey, two of 44 retailers listed Hexbugs as their top-seller for tweens.
Specialty Retailers, have this be your link
Writer's Bio: Claudia Newcorn has been a freelance writer and editor for over 10 years, after having spent more than a decade in marketing and product management. She writes for both businesses and individual clients, crafting copy, content and advertising. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines and specialty publications nationwide (www.acornmarketing.com). She is also the author of an award-winning fantasy fiction book, "Crossover," and several published short stories (www.claudianewcorn.com). Read more articles by this author