Tangible Play, maker of the Osmo line of toys, has raised a $24 million round of funding from Sesame Workshop’s venture capital arm Sesame Ventures and Mattel as well as a number of traditional venture capital funds including Upfront Ventures, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Accel Partners, Shea Ventures, and K9 Ventures. The company now wants to use the money to expand its line of apps and games, and is exploring product and distribution partnerships with Sesame Workshop and Mattel.
Osmo launched in May of 2014 with a crowdfunding campaign for its first three toys, all of which cleverly combine apps on the iPad with physical gameplay. Osmo users simply put the iPad in a special stand and clip a small mirror on top of the iPad’s camera, thereby redirecting the “eyes” of the device to the table space in front of it. Kids can then solve puzzles, play pictionary with real letter tiles or do drawing games, with the iPad automatically recognizing objects placed on the table.
The idea to combine the real world with games and apps has gotten a lot of attention in recent months as part of a new augmented reality boom that included the breakthrough hit Pokemon Go. Tangible Play co-founder and CEO Pramod Sharma said during a recent interview that he doesn’t really care about these kinds of labels, quipping: “We call it actual reality.” But the core idea of apps that interact with real-world objects has been with Osmo ever since its inception. “We are focused on children playing with their hands,” Sharma said.
Sharma told Variety during a recent interview that his company had seen growing interest from children’s entertainment companies. Sesame Workshop in particular seemed like a great fit, which eventually resulted in the company taking part in Osmo’s latest funding round. “Sesame Street has this classic entertainment meets education DNA baked into the company,” he said.
Tangible Play is now exploring a number of collaboration opportunities with both Sesame Workshop and Mattel, which include anything from distribution partnerships to the co-creation of games — something that Sharma painted as the natural evolution of Osmo.
The first Osmo games were all based on classic children’s games, including pictionary and Tangram puzzles. More recently, Osmo has been increasingly using characters to drive gameplay. “We have learned the power of character,” said Sharma. “Children connect with characters.”
Osmo isn’t the only company exploring the combination of mobile apps and tangible objects beyond the screen. Just this week, Sony announced a new initiative called Project Field, which essentially combines a connected game board with special playing cards and board game pieces. Sony didn’t say when Project Field would become commercially available.
For its part, Tangible Play is looking to bring its apps to a new platform next year as well: Sharma said that the company has been developing an iPhone app to allow for augmented game play on the go.