Idaho Company Brings Luv to the Global Toy Industry

 

Its Alive Labs (IAL) is a Boise, Idaho design and product development company created in 2015. Though consumers might consider the company’s products “toys,” IAL sees their products more as “animatronic life forms” that can learn, grow, evolve, interact, and connect with users. The company’s most recent creation, Magic Mealtime Mia, brings the traditional feeding doll “play” into the technologically advanced interactive arena with sensing technology and related behaviors. 

Caleb Chung, the inventor, came into the toy industry with the standard background; a career as a mime, comedian, and stunt man. Chung was a prolific creator of toys from the get-go who invented some classic McDonald’s Happy Meal giveaways. He became a toy-design rockstar in the 1990s with Furby, a famously fuzzy interactive electronic robotic character that could learn and evolve.  Chung’s vision for what a toy could do and how it could interact with users evolves as quickly as the technology that brings his ideas to life. 

After his success with Furby (created in Idaho!), Chung started tinkering with another life form that used sophisticated technology and robotics to evoke a deep emotional bond. Chung’s efforts resulted in Pleo (with Chung at left), a super cute baby dinosaur that begins its emotional and intellectual development as soon as you pull it out of the box.

Chung discovered TechHelp, a member of the MEP National Network™, at the Boise State New Product Development Lab (NPD), in the early 2000s when he developed Pleo. In those days, the Lab was one of Idaho’s few places that offered collaborative product design work paired with onsite 3D prototyping. 

Chung worked with the TechHelp Team to capture, refine, and prototype his ideas for Pleo. Chung’s added benefit was the deep relationships he developed with Boise State’s top Mechanical Engineering students and staff, some of whom he later employed. Chung also used the services of the Lab’s resident artist who kept an eye on the aesthetic aspects of his creations. 

IAL found capable design talent in Travis Dean, a former student employee of the NPD Lab. Dean had built experience in a variety of entrepreneurial ventures as well as larger engineering and manufacturing company environments. In his new position at IAL, Dean quickly engaged TechHelp’s NPD Team to support the company’s rapid prototyping needs. IAL’s trust in the NPD Lab contributed to accelerated decision-making on design changes to their products.

It’s Alive Labs worked with TechHelp’s NPD Team to identify how they could bring value to the project. TechHelp collaborated with IAL to produce a scope of work that identified action items, timelines, and a budget. This proposal outlined how IAL would be an active participant in the design and prototyping process.

IAL worked collaboratively with NPD to create the original Luvabella, an adorable interactive doll with lifelike facial expressions and movements. The doll can expand her vocabulary from baby babble to over 100 words and complete phrases! Luvabella has a distinct personality and comes with interactive accessories that give children the chance to care and play with a lifelike baby doll. 

IAL’s collaboration with TechHelp NPD students and specialists helped the company leverage the NPD Lab’s diverse talent pool and technological resources. It quickly became apparent that additive manufacturing tools are irreplaceable in a fast-paced product development cycle. With the NPD Team’s recommendation, IAL purchased a fleet of 3D printers and other lab-based assets to assist in design and development activities. Combining technical know-how, state of the art prototyping equipment, and talented design oriented engineering, the Luvabella product line has now expanded to Luvabella “Newborn” and the male version, Luvabeau. 

Results:

TechHelp is fortunate to work with Idaho companies that are committed to innovation, growth, and continuous improvement. They are not afraid to make productive investments in their people, plant, products, and processes that lead to positive economic impacts. Listed below are some of the investments and impacts reported by It’s Alive that came about as a result of the company’s work with TechHelp. 

Increased/Retained Sales: $2,200,000

Increased/Retained Jobs: 6

Cost Savings: $72,000

New Investment: $180,000

New Products: The Luvabella baby doll expanded to Luvabella “Newborn” and the Luvabeau. 

The TechHelp Team at the Boise State NPD lab consistently goes beyond our expectations year after year. We have come to rely on their 3d printing and engineering knowledge to support the continuing development of advanced materials and processes. This is a capital expense many small companies cannot make.  Whatever is necessary to ensure the continuation and growth of this service has become a critical need for our success.  Without them, I don’t know how we would have gotten off the ground. 

– Caleb Chung, Co-Founder of It’s Alive Labs

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