Editor's Note: Osmo is a winner of Inc.'s 2017 Design Awards, our annual recognition of entrepreneurs using design to build great companies, in the "User Experience" category.
Pramod Sharma was an engineer at Google trying to solve a puzzle only a geek would love: If he put a downward-angled mirror in front of an upright iPad's front-facing camera, would the mirror expand the camera's field of view and turn the space in front of the iPad into a virtual touchpad?
The answer, he found, was yes--leading him, in 2012, and fellow engineer Jerome Scholler, in 2013, to leave Google to start what neither had ever imagined being involved with--a kids' toy company.
Osmo, their Silicon Valley startup, uses computer vision, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality technologies to power a hardware and software game system. A stand holds an iPad at just the right angle for the reflector to create a field of view in which kids between the ages of 5 and 12 can toggle between the physical and digital worlds.
The games, which start at $29 (the stand is $19), include activities like lining up coding command blocks to control the movement of a virtual character; drawing figures on
a dry-erase board, which then become part of an animated scene; and arranging wooden blocks to mirror a shape onscreen.
The co-founders say not underestimating kids' intelligence has been key to the success of their company, which experienced 100 percent year-over-year revenue growth in both 2015 and 2016. Even Apple, which rarely carries kids' toys in its stores, has been selling Osmo since 2014. "In the children's space, you see a lot of silly and grotesque stuff. There seems to be an assumption that when you create a product for children, you need to dumb it down, to make it cartoony and goofy," says Scholler. "We think this isn't true, and we're trying to challenge this idea."