Sales of a micro-robotic toy from Innovation First Inc. may exceed 750,000 in its first eight months, but it took creative design improvements to launch the Hexbug.
IFI of Greenville, Texas, calls it a ``tiny, intelligent and obedient insect that you can control.''
Retailing for $9.99, a Hexbug creature can crawl, sense and avoid obstacles and, upon hearing a handclap or loud noise, change direction.
A contract manufacturer makes the product for IFI in Dongguan, China. The processor uses ABS in injection molding the two-piece, opaque chassis core, 21 other opaque parts and seven transparent components. Twelve nonplastic parts and the printed circuit board complete the assembly.
Strong consumer demand has prompted production increases and required some airfreight deliveries.
IFI drew on the experience of design and product development firm Ignition of Plano, Texas, to move beyond a prototype chassis.
Ignition ``transformed our concept into a viable, market-ready product and helped us to create an entirely new product category,'' said Joel Carter, IFI marketing vice president.
``The product needed to sell retail for under $10, and we needed to keep it fun,'' said Doug Galletti, senior industrial designer with Ignition. ``We had to be judicious with decorations and design,'' leading them to create common components for the chassis, motor and linkage.
For the fun side, Ignition incorporated characteristics from different beetles and included negative spaces to create translucent back shells and legs in five shapes and colors.
Development work on the initial chassis aesthetics began in April 2006. IFI started marketing Hexbug in late April 2007.
Each bug is 2¼ inches long and wide, has a three-way steering mechanism and uses a 1½-volt battery. Hexbugs somewhat mimic the appearance of actual insects - except for the exposed electronics. Each of the five bug shapes has its own phonetic alphabet name such as Alpha or Bravo.
RadioShack Corp. of Fort Worth, Texas, has North American distribution rights, and the toys and hobby unit of Tokyo-based Namco Bandai Holdings Inc. serves retailers elsewhere.
Privately held IFI was formed in 1996, initially making electronics for unmanned mobile ground robots. IFI's Vex robotics design system won the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show's best of innovation award. Success of the Vex platform led IFI to develop the Hexbug.