This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
Phil Charnock is part of the SwapBots team, the Liverpool startup that uses augmented reality to bring toys to life. One of our Northern Stars winners, SwapBots is currently touring the USA to launch its Kickstarter campaign.
2017 is a pivotal year for SwapBots that will see our toy and game go from a prototype to a crowdfunding campaign and into the hands of players. In the run up to the launch we are embarking on a mini-tour around the US, taking in three trade shows that are as individual as they are influential.
First up was Toy Fair in New York, followed by a coast-to-coast flight to San Francisco for GDC. Finally, we have a full fortnight of exhibiting, pitching and (hopefully) partying at SXSW in Austin with some of our fellow Northern Stars winners.
For those who are yet to experience SwapBots, it’s a toy that comes to life using augmented reality (AR). We’ve positioned it as a new take on the toys-to-life genre (think console-based games such as Skylanders and Nintendo’s Amiibo). However, we use a tablet or smartphone to make the product accessible to a vast majority of children in our target markets of North America and the UK.
Going beyond Pokémon
If you think that AR begins and ends with Pokémon Go, think again. We are avid advocates of AR as it gives the ability to turn any object into an interactive, animated surface. So, what better use of this emerging technology than to make toys walk, talk and battle?
For us it is vital that we take SwapBots out on tour because, like any immersive technology, you really need to experience it for yourself. Our aim is to get people playing SwapBots and hopefully to return from these shows primed to pledge to our Kickstarter, which has just gone live.
Thankfully our partners also see the value in getting hands-on with the goods. As one of the ten Northern Stars winners, we have already exhibited at TechCrunch Disrupt, pitched at Bloomberg’s London HQ and even toured 10 Downing Street (yes, we met the cat!). Tech North clearly shares our philosophy of taking the product to the people that matter.
Speaking of our partners, it’s thanks to the manufacturer of SwapBots and the platform that powers our augmented reality interactions that we found ourselves at Toy Fair in New York last week.
Coast to coast
Our development strategy has always been to nurture relationships with our technical partners to ensure we are not just another anonymous user of their products. To this end we are regularly in contact with the team at Vuforia, the PTC-owned company that powers many of the world’s best AR experiences. It was they who invited us to Toy Fair and we conducted private demos on their stand. Last year, Lego starred at their stand at some shows, so we were in good company!
Not only that, we are also giving public demos of SwapBots on Creata‘s stand. The Chicago-based toy manufacturer not only produces our toys, they have proved to be a vital partner in navigating the industry and the market that we find ourselves in.
John Keefe, SwapBots’ co-founder and technical director, has recently visited Creata’s Shenzen plant where he saw the toys being made and got to speak to the incredible people who are making our ideas a reality – perhaps the most special moment in our journey so far.
After New York, we hop across to San Francisco for the prestigious GDC (Game Developers Conference) where we are exhibiting on our own stand as part of GDC Play, the indie game showcase. With GDC running from February 27th until March 3rd, we will be launching our Kickstarter campaign in the middle of it, so this is sure to be a huge event for us.
To top it off we have also been selected from hundreds of companies to be one of ten taking part in GDC Pitch. Our Northern Stars competition experience will be called upon!
Keeping it weird in Austin
The final stop on our tour is in the capital of weird, Austin, for SXSW where we form part of a delegation of Tech North and Tech City UK representatives. This celebration of all things creative takes over the city for an event that has expanded from its musical leanings to take in art, movies, technology and more. SwapBots will be exhibiting within the government-backed Great Britain House. We’ll also be pitching at two separate events, so it’s going to be a full fortnight.
If you like the sound of a toy that comes to life, then you can get your hands on a set of SwapBots by pledging towards our Kickstarter campaign.
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