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Octobo - a toy that can actually respond to feedback from children and truly engage them in genuine interactive play.

Octobo is the plush companion robot who inspires kids to create and imagine through interactive storybooks and a growing app library.

Photo of Yuting Su

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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Throughout the prize, we’ve made changes based on user surveys and mentorship feedback. Since December, we run FB ads to send out typeform surveys (typeform link here: https://octobo.typeform.com/to/G0cmdJ) to collect user data. So far, we have collected around 3000 results. Questions in our typeform included three parts: 1. Demographic data (Kids’ age, gender) 2. User diary and interest (what they normally play at home, with whom, their favorite activities) 3. Octobo product feedback (what is the appropriate age range, open ended text field for feedbacks). With the information we receive from the survey, we have made new product road maps and production plans to better gear ourselves towards our customer’s needs and expectations. Emotion education is a field that parents think is very unique to Octobo and we will put more focus on and develop more content and triggers in the field. The mentorship program has affected us in two aspects. On the business side, we have reached out to the manufacturing support contact our mentor forwarded us. We are now in discussion to restructure our manufacture production line and adjust the timeline to be more realistic. We have also made new plans to reach out to venture funds after our crowdfunding campaign in March to show more traction and real users. On the product side, we’ve made new development plans to grow content at a faster speed. Instead of an all in-house team, we will reach out and build partnerships with writer communities and other content sites. We will also involve more early childhood educators to build future curriculums and validate the design; some leads we are working on now: our contacts in the Head Start program, University of Southern California’s early childhood research programs, and we are also in discussion with a few occupational therapists who expressed interest in Octobo. To refine the product, we will start with prototyping shorter experiences and testing with people. We will work with bookstores and public library programs to create sing-along and read-along experience for group audiences. We’ve also set up a goal measurement plan. Here are our objectives and how we plan on measuring them: 1. Product: Are the children playing with Octobo through a breadth of apps and physical interactions to make sure they are receiving a broad education? - Measurement: >>We will track the usage of each app to make sure they are all being used and the built-in functionality is being explored. >>We will track usage of both the digital screen and the physical sensors to ensure balanced usage. 2. Product: Are the children playing with Octobo with their parents to reinforce family bonds? - Measurement: We will conduct surveys of our customers. 3. Schools: Are schools adopting Octobo, and validating its educational abilities? - Measurement: We will reach out to local education centers and run a few pilot programs. 4. Sales: Are customers interested in signing up for a pre-sale on a crowdfunding website? - Measurement: We plan on running the crowdfunding soon and will directly measure based on number of customers. 5. Sales: Are we getting referrals from initial customers to validate product satisfaction? - Measurement: We will have a referral program after the initial sale and benchmark word-of-mouth referrals against industry norms.

Name or Organization

Thinker-Tinker, LLC

Geography

We are located in Los Angeles, CA, USA.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD

Type

  • For-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

We are building an educational platform that educates through companionship and storytelling as compared to other more transactional products. Octobo is a robot that encompasses the most innovative technology of today, while still being a soft and cuddly companion, thus, kids develop an emotional attachment to him. Octobo integrates physical books, play, cognitive puzzles, and family time into one activity. Parents can additionally unlock new features and personal meaningful content with Octobo's expanding app library as their children grow or their interests change.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

With Octobo, a smart companion that can grow and learn with kids, we aim to create an experience that captures the best of both physical and digital worlds - the interactive and stimulating social play experience of traditional toys together with the endless content of a digital library. We also aim to inspire kids to learn, imagine, and explore in a more engaging and safe learning environment.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Toys and learning tools today fail to engage young children to learn in a safe and enticing way. Although children develop rapidly, many times toys cannot keep up with a child's learning curve and have limited replayable value. Most toys that integrate technology today are actually detrimental to the amount of time a child spends with their family, with other children, or even reading a physical book. Octobo was created to fix these problems.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

When we first started Thinker-Tinker, our vision was to create toys that could not only respond, but evolve. We wanted to make a physical toy, because unlike a tablet or phone alone, it is something you can feel confident about putting in a kids’ hands. We wanted the interface and design to be simple and clear because that’s how communication should always be. In 2015, we began creating Octobo for children to inspire them to learn, imagine, and explore in an engaging learning environment. Octobo is a reactive plush robot that comes with multiple storybooks and an expanding app library, transforming screen time from a traditionally isolating activity to time with family, a book, and physical play. As parents and children read Octobo's storybooks together, they discover what Octobo wants, give him things they find in the book, interact with Octobo, and see him respond to them. Octobo has a tablet display on his head, RFID reader in the bowl he's holding and soft sensors throughout his body, allowing him to respond to taps, tosses, hugs, and wiggles. He is therefore able to give children immediate feedback to how well they are learning and provide scaffolding and positive reinforcement to the process. Octobo's storybook topic range includes improving empathy, solving shape recognition puzzles, spelling puzzles, and other tasks. These storybooks come with RFID chips that Octobo reacts to when a child places them on a certain part of Octobo's body. Each storybook comes with an app that contains a slew of engaging educational games. Although these games can be played by one person, they have been specifically designed to encourage family interaction and for children to play these educational games with other kids. Most importantly, we created Octobo with expandable content so that parents can unlock new features as their children grow or their interests change, and curate songs, stories, and games for their kids that are personally meaningful. We have been developing Octobo for over 2 years now. We have had hundreds of play tests and have spoken to hundreds of parents to get their feedback. We have been refining our toy to make sure it's exactly what parents need for their children. We are very excited to share our passion and make our vision become a reality as we launch Octobo on Kickstarter this year. We are looking for funding and investors to make our dream come true, of helping kids around the world learn, inspire, and create with this phenomenal, new innovative toy.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Families with children will benefit from having Octobo in their lives. There is a lost opportunity when toys do not integrate technology with their systems, and often times when they do, screen time begins detracting from family time, time for learning, and time spent with a book. However, Octobo has found a safe way to fix this problem, by integrating group play and responsive cooperative activities with modern technology. With Octobo, children can not only play, learn, and create together with the best technology and research of our time, but also not lose sight of family values, empathy, and human connection. We have conducted multiple playtests (internationally!) for the past two years and consulted hundreds of parents to ensure Octobo is exactly what they need for their family. We have also spoken with health practitioners and Head Start teachers to explore Octobo's potential for helping students with special needs and in settings beyond the home - classrooms, clinics, and research labs.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Octobo is one of the first toys that can actually respond to feedback from children and truly engage them in genuine interactive play. Octobo can improve a child's learning through reinforcement and contemporary early education research. Octobo can be a prime example of how far a toy can go in helping a child grow as technology continues to expand. We curate songs, books, and activities that are personally meaningful to families as their children grow. With Octobo, children can still enjoy the benefits of how far technology has come without sacrificing their family values and humanity. We also focus on creating a play experience that incorporates joint-attention that will benefit kids from the early stages of their learning.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Octobo's high replayable value is second to none in that Octobo is a growing platform that can accompany kids from early learning to school years. New content will be available at very competitive prices (app digital downloads). Our goal is to put Octobo in early childhood centers, public facilities (etc. schools and public library programs) and make the platform available to educators, researchers, and health practitioners to create content for kids in need.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Our product solves the following problem: most educational toys today are one-dimensional and provide little replay value. When we think of products that people love throughout history, such as the iPod, an ergonomic chair, a deck of cards, or even the family pet, they all provide immense replayability and they can adapt to the user as the user grows up and changes. Conversely, today’s smart toys are one dimensional. They may only fit a narrow age range, or be suitable for math development only, or are only playable at a computer desk. Octobo solves all these problems through adaptable content, physical and digital play, and emotional appeal. For example, through the creation of different user profiles and an embedded tablet, Octobo can access an entire digital content library and tune it to the age level and stage of development of each child. Furthermore the physical and digital play allows the child to engage with Octobo throughout the day naturally. We increasingly live in a digital world, but children need to physically connect to truly bond with any person or object. Finally, adding a character and an emotional aspect to Octobo turns him into a real companion and friend, increasing bonding and reinforcing learning. Throughout the content development, we experimented with a lot of ways to innovate how we can incorporate important learning concepts into the product. 1. Joint attention - Joint attention is proven to be important for many aspects of language development including comprehension, production, and word learning, which is also what we want to improve in educational play. However, often times parents do not have a clear idea of how to facilitate play. We designed the instructions inside the story and gameplay in a seamless way, so naturally parents are encouraged to lead the experience following the joint attention method. We also provide parents with a play guide with questions they can ask their kids in different situations. 2. Self-directed play - Octobo is designed to have great flexibility in play. The whole gameplay is like reading a story; there is an order to follow but kids do not necessarily need to follow the order in order to enjoy the fun. The product is designed to let kids lead the play and make the first move on deciding what they want to do. Compare this to TV programs or traditional toys which are usually more one directional, telling kids what to do. 3. Creative confidence - There are so many different ways to interact with Octobo; there is no “right” or “wrong” in Octobo’s world. We wanted to create gameplay that does not keep count of a score or asks kids to achieve better rankings. Instead, Octobo pushes kids to explore and reinforces that every decision they make is a great decision. We also worked with kids occupational therapists to discover the potential of how Octobo can support kids’ learning in different age groups and how the product is able to grow with them. Here’s a brief of how kids can benefit from our underwater board book, and ABC storybook. 0-18 mo: Octobo's cuddly body and squishy arms welcome our little ones to explore and grab. He's also a big huggable pal that babies feel safe with! 1-3 year old: Children can learn about emotions by interacting with Octobo in different ways, such as poking his eyes, wiggling his arms, giving him hugs, and even seeing how Octobo reacts to things he doesn't like. With our underwater book, kids will learn about shapes and colors and try to solve simple puzzles to get Octobo the items he's asking for. 3-5 year old: Our ABC storybook and app is designed by educational experts and experienced game designers. Kids can learn everything from ABC’s to spelling in a fun and engaging way. Octobo has been tested by hundreds of kids with an animation mechanism that is proven to really help kids learn! 5-7 years old: After kids master basic vocabulary, it's time for some spelling challenges! In our spelling game mode, kids can play a collaborative spelling game with their pals and see how many words they can spell out! Each time is a fun challenge to improve their skills. We are also developing more activities to play with Octobo (to list a few: Octobo sing-a-long, Octobo Says). Families can simply download new content from the App Store and unlock new games to play! Here are two quote from our mentors: - Martin Sanders (Director of the LEGO Creative Play Lab) “Octobo offers a delightful blend of traditional hands-on, tactile play with engaging digital interactions. Through the multiple play modes and activities, parents and children can spend quality playtime together.” - Marientina Gotsis (Director of USC Creative Media and Behavioral Health Center) “Octobo is different because he is not a screen-based babysitter for your child. He is a physical member of the family and adults and children can interact to learn new skills and bond through active storytelling.”

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

We can see Octobo appearing in homes, schools, and hospitals. Additionally, we are not only proud to share Octobo because of his educational value, but also because Octobo is such an amazing companion that can provide emotional support in times of need. Octobo is extremely sustainable in that it is a platform that consistently fuels new and engaging content with a digital library. It is a toy that grows as your child grows. Octobo is an expanding platform where players can easily download new content as it is available on the app store. Octobo is capable of expanding internationally. For kids in different countries, cultures, and languages. In terms of barriers to scaling, it all comes down to how fast we can create new content on the platform. We anticipate this will be easier the more contacts we have associated with the education system.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Octobo first began as an academic Masters student thesis project at the University of Southern California. From the beginning, our work on Octobo has been surrounded by academic research on early childhood education. Our main design goals have been to create a toy that can not only inspire and respond, but also evolve over time. From our early design stages, we have done extensive research to understand the field at a scholarly level. At Thinker-Tinker, we have a strong team that can fulfill our vision. Our content development team is strong, including members from the USC Cinematic Arts entertainment network. We have personal connections to factories and hardware/software implementation teams in Taiwan and internationally. We are working with a team of ex-Foxconn employee's for DFM. We additionally have been in collaboration with the Institute for Information Industry in Taiwan, where Octobo is used for research on children's emotional development, and user testing around Asian countries. So far, we have validated the product with at least 1,000 people. We have shown Octobo's prototypes to numerous festivals and conferences and received resounding public and critical acclaim. In 2016, Octobo was recognized for the following awards: IndiePrize Best Kids and Family Games Official Selection, IndiePrize Most Innovative Games Official Selection, alt.ctrl.GDC Official Selection, IndieCade at E3 Official Selection, IndieCade Official Nominee Additionally, through user research testing and connections to manufacturers, our manufacturing prototypes are ready. We have playtested and consulted hundreds of parents, kids, and families. Our next step is to launch our product on Kickstarter this year to reach out to our market and fundraise!

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

We built Octobo as an expandable platform. We do not see Octobo as a one-off toy, instead, in the long run, we want to build a digital library with multiple apps that work with Octobo for parents and teachers so that they can customize the experience for their kids. This is a great time for smart toy products like Octobo to enter the market. Tech has become more and more advanced every year, allowing tech products to be manufactured in a substantially cheaper way to make it affordable for people. Families are also adapting tech products to their homes and are hungry for new, innovative solutions to introduce and take advantage of digital products to support learning. The global toys market is forecasted to be worth $8.4 billion by 2020. We want to enter the market by selling the Octobo plush as the first step in supporting the company to grow. For kids in the younger age group, providing a companion that they can build relationship with is going to be more beneficial than creating any digital learning system for them. Once we have a customer base, we can build our service upon our existing customers. The second step will be creating more apps that can run on Octobo for different developmental level. Parents will be able to customize the learning experience for every kid. We will eventually turn the service into a subscription model once we have enough content in our library. By breaking down the roadmap into different steps, we will be able to work with early childhood centers to provide different packages based on the scale of the business to support kids’ learning. Both smart toys and educational subscription services have been proven to be successful in the kids market (Age of Learning has $95MM/yr revenues). There is also a trend in the market in customizing children’s books in recent years (lostmy.name books has 2.6MM sales worldwide in 2 years). We believe the business can successfully scale by working on our step-by-step goal to create the most value possible on the Octobo platform. The biggest hurdle for products like Octobo is the manufactuability. We have spent the past year test running and iterating on the design and we are pretty confident with our current prototype. We are also in discussion with the manufacture support team our OpenIDEO mentor referred us to. Once we receive enough funding to enter manufacturing, the business is ready to kick off!

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Octobo first started as my (Yuting’s) Masters thesis project. In academia, I first studied prior art to understand therapeutic, educational, and entertainment products in related fields. Throughout the prototyping phase of Octobo, I conducted interviews and play observation sessions with families (see the attached questionnaire screenshots) to understand the user and iterate on the product. Octobo also received weekly critiques from my colleagues and thesis advisors who are experts in user experience and play experience designs. After the functional prototype was created, I took Octobo to the field and had hundreds of people engage directly with Octobo; Octobo was shown in the program open house shows, industry conferences like the Game Developers Conference, E3, Indie Prize, and family oriented festivals such as IndieCade, LA Zine Fest, Chicago Toy Fair, etc. I observed the way people played with Octobo and asked them follow-up questions, collecting feedback that helped me continuously iterate on and refine the product. I also set up play sessions and play dates with my son’s daycare center and through my friends and family to gather feedback from parents and their kids. After we received our manufacturing samples, we returned to conducting controlled studies for product, market, visual and demographic feedback. With help from our collaboration with the Institute for Information Industry's Idea Lab in Taiwan, we were able to run user studies not only in the USA, but also in Taiwan and Korea to see how kids in different countries reacted to Octobo’s gameplay. The user test, an hour long session, included interviews, observations and questionnaire studies. We then created journey maps and collected both quantitative and qualitative results to support our design decisions. Since December 2017, we have also started a Typeform questionnaire campaign on Facebook to understand our customers on a more product marketing level to better prepare for our product launch on Kickstarter soon. Quotes from the families we talked to: “On the educational side there’s just a lot to be learned from Octobo. Our kid already knows his A’s, his B’s, and his C’s” Ray – Father of a 22 months old boy “It’s so much fun, not only reading but you can touch it and feel it.” Kaori – Mom of a 2.5 y/o girl “It (Octobo) can adapt to kids of multiple ages…as a parents we will love, because it’s buying one thing that can last for years.” Connie– Mom of 1 y/o and 4 y/o boys “I love how interactive he is! There’s so many different parts; the books, the chips, the cards…I love that it’s a plush, which makes me feel a lot more safe.” Allsun – Mom of a 2.5 y/o boy

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Yuting Su, our founder, created Octobo in 2015 while she was pregnant with her son Owen. She wanted to create a toy that could not only respond to Owen, but also grow with him. She knew how fast her child would grow and learn, and she wanted to create a toy that could cater to that amount of customization. As a team, our inspiration is to help kids just like Owen learn, grow, create, and explore. What inspires us most is how much we can do to help children learn more efficiently and in a safer and more engaging way. We have consulted hundreds of parents just like Yuting, early childhood educators, and product engineers in order to create the best product possible. Notes from Yuting: "I have a pretty varied background in terms of my studies, culture, and motherhood during school, and I bring all of that into my Octobo project. I have always derived great happiness assisting others. I studied pre-med for my undergraduate and bioinformatics for my first masters degree because I was interested in caring for people. From all the field studies I done, I found games to be a very powerful medium for education because of its engagement and emotional appeal. I then decided to attend USC’s game design program where I found my passion in creating educational play experiences for kids. For early childhood education, physical engagement is the key but sadly it’s rare to find a company that puts enough attention into creating products that combine both the digital and physical worlds in a seamless way. As a mom myself, I wanted to give the best to my little one! I decided to dream up and create my own startup to bring a new interactive learning product to the industry."

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Yes we have the people and partners to do what we have described. We have a small, passionate core team working hard to reach our goals; to inspire kids to create, imagine, and explore. We have built relationships with partners overseas for emotional research. That being said, we would love to receive any help with our passion. We could benefit from a mentor to better refine the usage and content of Octobo.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We are continuing to expand Octobo's content with success. We have received positive feedback from our research collaborating with international parties. However, we would benefit greatly from the help of an expert in early childhood education who can help us with building our curriculum and validating our game design. Connections to schools and facilities that are interested in using the Octobo platform would additionally help. Another thing that would help would be to create connections with business partners in the kids tech space in order to help us scale upwards. Finally, we need investors in order to reach a larger amount of end-users. We want to produce content for different needs and consumer bases. For example, we would love to make Octobo beneficial to kids with special needs such as Down Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders. However, as a small boot-strap company, it's more difficult to cover multiple areas of focus in development.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would love a mentor with expertise in education/research who can help us with building our curriculum at Octobo and our game design. We could additionally greatly benefit from the help of a business-oriented mentor who can help us connect to schools and facilities that are interested in using the Octobo platform and who can help us improve our marketing strategies. We want to scale our business upwards and would love the help of this individual.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Founder Yuting's Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suyuting/ Octobo's website (please sign up for our mailing list!): https://www.playoctobo.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OCTOBO/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/playoctobo/

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

[Optional] Video: You are invited to submit a 30-60 second video that introduces you and/or your team and your idea.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

The mentorship support we received has helped us to achieve a few breakthroughs during the production of Octobo, both on the business side and on the content development plan. We have listed all the details in the updates section on how our mentors have been incredibly helpful in providing us the support to make Octobo even better. We are very happy with the progress we have made in the past months and the OpenIDEO community is phenomenal!

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Photo of Roya Brown
Team

Hello Yuting,
You have an amazing contribution. We will open our ECE in Denver, Colorado in Summer 2018. We are a teacher-led model and we would like to build this leadership at scale in Colorado. We like to explore your contribution for our Center/ Parents.It would be great if we could talk. Thanks, Roya

Photo of Yuting Su
Team

Hi Roya,
Yes! I'd love to talk and see if there's ways to collaborate. We're very interested in bringing Octobo to ECEs and work with teachers to discover Octobo's potentials.
Please email me at yuting@playoctobo.com and we can schedule a call. :)
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Yuting

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