This next chapter in the Sparkup story explores some of the challenges Amir and Roei faced in the early stages of inventing the Sparkup.
Amir and Roei had their epiphany by the river back in August 2009. They were inspired to change the story time experience for children and their families – but just how, exactly, would they realize this ambitious goal?
From the start, Amir and Roei knew they wanted to create something tangible that could be given as a meaningful gift – something which could be personalized. Initially, they thought about launching a website where grandparents could record themselves reading a book. The recording would be burned onto a CD and sent to their grandchild along with a copy of the actual book.
While this approach met their two criteria, Amir and Roei felt something was missing. One of their first investors had once told them, “A startup company couldn’t exist without having a major technological barrier”. How could they remove the computer screen from the equation while still harnessing technology to enhance children’s storybooks? Recordable storybooks had just entered the market, and an international phone company was exploring alternatives for remote storytelling . A friend recommended a platform linking storytelling to the TV, but this seemed antithetical to Amir and Roei’s intention to keep the device screen-free.
The idea came to Amir in the middle of the night. He imagined a device that would make books interactive and bring them to life through voice and gesture recognition (these features would later become part of the Sparkup patent). The crux of the concept lay in matching personally recorded audio to each page of a book—a regular printed book, not books designed especially to be recorded—so as the reader flips the pages, the device would follow along and read the correct text aloud. This would become the basis for the Sparkup Magical Book Reader.
With their concept solidified, Amir and Roei explored a number of different technologies, and interviewed many engineers in the process. They developed three prototypes that could, in theory, read a printed book off the shelf. The first made use of a smart ruler capable of making very precise measurements; the second involved an ultrasound-based caliber; and the third entailed a camera that viewed the pages from a side angle, enable the device to locate the correct spot in the book based on the number of pages.
The three technologies could identify pages from within a book with varying degrees of success, but were unable to recognize the particular book’s cover. Amir and Roei wanted to create a seamless user interface, which would not require the user to scan the ISBN code of each book enter it manually. So they decided to pursue a solution rooted in image processing and recognition, which would ensure a higher success rate in recognizing pages and enable the device to identify book covers and the pages within those books – but at a price. The two aimed to develop a device that was accessible to a broad range of users and their families, so using the traditional components for this technology would price many consumers out of the market. They had to find an engineer and a designer who could produce the right combination of inexpensive parts and package them in a functional and aesthetically pleasing design.
Tune in next week to meet the engineer and the designer who found creative solutions to these problems and helped bring the Sparkup to life!