As a child, Patrick Muggler loved taking objects apart to discover how they worked. His curiosity and drive to create new things brought him to his most recent project: Amby Gear, a smartwatch for kids with GPS and educational games based on physical movement. Raised in Brazil and Switzerland, Patrick is one of the BayBrazilians who thrive in Silicon Valley.
BayBrazil: Tell us about your professional trajectory before creating Ambit Networks.
Patrick: Even as a kid I always loved to take things apart to see how they worked and then put them back together and to build new things. When I was finishing high school, in Switzerland, I decided to attend a US university instead of a Swiss since the culture in the US is more open to new ideas.
I went to Arizona State University for my Bachelors and Masters in EE. After completing my Master’s degree I went to work for Texas Instruments (TI) as a design engineer. Within a few years, I changed from a design engineer to a business developer and product manager, working with customers such as Nokia, Apple, Sony, Motorola, and many others, mainly within the consumer electronics, cell phones and smartphone divisions.
I was responsible for growing revenue and profits for a range of products in Japan, Europe and the US while at TI. In a few years my business unit’s revenue went from ~$30M to ~$150M in sales.
BayBrazil: When did you decide it was the right time to become an entrepreneur?
Patrick: I always wanted to start a company. I grew up among many entrepreneurs inside my family and extensive friends circle. Right after graduation, I started exploring a significant number of ideas from an innovative way to install fiber cable without having to break the pavement which would significantly reduce the cost of installing fiber in many neighbourhoods, to a wind farm in northeastern Brazil, to a system to harvest energy from the rain, to even a mobile phone trading company that would be active in Asia, in the US, and Brazil.
However, having a H1-B visa did not allow me to start a company in the US. So I had to wait. In 2010, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and started attending startup meetups. I also started my executive double MBA (UC Berkeley and Columbia University) eight months after moving. After completing the MBA and having received my green card I started to explore several options from green-tech to specialized consulting to mobile consumer electronics, where I have most experience. So in 2013, Ambit Networks was founded.
BayBrazil: AmbyGear, the smartwatch for kids, is the first product for Ambit Networks. How was the process to create this wearable device?
Patrick: In early 2013, we had a very different concept of what the product would be. The first concept of AmbyGear was of watch for children with a built-in GPS and connectivity – no educational games, reward systems. After putting together a few prototypes and having customers (kids and parents) test it and performing significant market research we learned that parents liked the concept a lot, but kids were neutral to the product (initially liking it, but over time forgetting about AmbyGear). So, we had to drive stickiness with kids up and we developed the educational games and rewards system concept.
BayBrazil: And what are the features of this new watch, with a design focused on the kids?
Patrick: AmbyGear is much more than just a smartwatch for kids. The product helps children grow up with life lessons that are being forgotten. It will help parents better connect and share moments with their kids even when they are half way around the world. It will help bring peace of mind to families on vacation or during an afternoon at the mall, and much more while giving screen time control back to the parents. Our smartwatch brings a platform with three important features: First, we have wearable games, which means that the games are not played on the screen (given the size), but are focused on movement and position. Teaching kids life lessons is another point, since the watch teaches kids to have responsibility and helps develop good habits. And finally the GPS, boundary alerts and geo fences helps keep kids safe, by alerting parents before a problem occurs.
The watch will also have a schedule system so parents can control what their kids can do with the device in a certain moment. If the kid is at school, for example, there is a way to set the device to only show the time, nothing else.
BayBrazil: Tell us more about the games and applications available on AmbyGear. How do they work exactly?
Patrick: AmbyGear is shipped with a few applications and games. Among the first apps & games are: AmbyCalendar, that allows parents to reward their kids for daily activities. AmbyText allows parents to send short text messages to the watch and kids to reply. Find Me! enables kids to find their parents and to notify them in case of emergency. Treasure hunt works with Geo Cashing, thus enabling kids to go on treasure hunts. But what we really want is to provide a SDK so developers can create games and apps for AmbyGear. We are also considering a partnership with Scratch in order to allow kids to create their own games and apps for AmbyGear. It is important to remember two things here: First, the traditional game industry evolves around better graphics and bigger screens, smartwatchs cannot compete with this model. Second, AmbyGear is with the child the entire day and provides a very different user experience than a tablet for example.
BayBrazil: Some of the most popular smartwatches for children are Kidizoom and FiLIP. How does your product differentiate from its competitors?
Patrick: AmbyGear’s position is unique since we combine safety, wearable games and rewards into a single device. FiLIP’s position is of a wearable phone and locator for kids. It is designed for parents to call their kids and to locate them. Kidizoom is based on adding tech to a toy and I believe that trying to provide traditional video games to a 2 inch low resolution screen is not the way to go.
BayBrazil: And what are the next steps for AmbyGear. Is the product available already?
Patrick: We have a beta version of the watch. There are some changes to be made on the industrial design and some adjustments required for manufacturing. We are launching a fundraising on IndieGogo on March 3rd , and the first shipments should be made by the end of August.
BayBrazil: You mentioned that Ambit Networks` road map includes the creation of other wearable products. Why do you think this is a good business and what are the promises of the IoT market?
Patrick: The other wearable products in the pipeline are complementary to the current version of AmbyGear and some are future improvements as technology enables new features. Among the complimentary products we have software (SDK and kids SDK for example), services (around security and education), and actual hardware products. However, they all focus on expanding the capabilities of AmbyGear.
BayBrazil: How do you see IoT playing a role on how people use technological devices?
Patrick: Technology is going to enable fantastic things such as predictions of your health and preventive medicine, better safety and security, and many other benefits to the consumers. Smartphones and tablets are great devices. However, our society is having a bit of a problem of being too much in the virtual world instead of the real one. This has some negative impacts such as decreasing real conversations, missing important life moments and opportunities, being overwhelmed by the information `tsunami`. I believe that smart wearables and IoT will be great in reversing this trend by automatically helping sort what is important and what is just noise at a level which is not possible with smartphones, tablets and computers today.
However, smartwatches, wearables, and IoT are not going to replace our current devices. Rather they will complement those devices in ways no one fully understands yet.