A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences

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Ubooly 1

Ubooly is a plush creature that comes alive when you place an iDevice inside of it. Ubooly can then tell jokes and stories, make conversation, even recognizing users’ pitch. Ubooly can also be customized to teach children math and science.    

Launched through a Kickstarter campaign, Ubooly is a “slip-in” hybrid toy, aimed mostly at kids. Users first buy the Ubooly plushie and then download the free app. The interactive face of Ubooly can be customized and it talks back when spoken to. Similar to Furby, two Uboolies can recognize each other and have conversation.

The toy is also a service, as Ubooly downloads interactive content every month over wifi, including games, stories, and adventures. The initial download includes over four hours of content and the company estimates that there will be roughly half an hour worth of extra content per month. Content packs are available as in-app purchases.

In Ubooly Lab parents can customize Ubooly to teach their child new languages, math, and ocean biology, among other things. After this Ubooly’s data can be accessed to see how the kids are progressing. Other features include Ubooly walking kids through teeth brushing, i.e. making the two minute brushing session more engaging via a song or a story, changing it each time to keep it fresh.

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WeeWaa 2WeeWaa is an unreleased game concept by Zoink that combines a Wii remote with a plush toy. The player places a Wii remote in a wacky looking plush character called WeeWaa, which can then be “walked”, “jumped”, etc. making the virtual WeeWaa act correspondingly on the screen.

Originally debuting in 2009, the slip-in-toy-come-hybrid WeeWaa, for Nintendo’s Wii, never saw the day of light beyond the acclaim its demo version received on various game summits. Since then, it has dropped off the radar completely. “We did finish the game for Wii, and the tech and gameplay [were] working really good”, Klaus Lyngeled, the creative director of Zoink, says. Zoink even designed the plush toy themselves and set up production for it in China. “But the investor and publisher didn’t go through with publishing it since the Wii market wasn’t strong enough”, Lyngeled laments. Eventually Zoink decided to take the assets and designs for the story, characters, and universe and recycle them into a mobile game for iOS and Android called WeeWaa RockOn! (though the game mechanics don’t bare a resemblance to the original game). The plush toy game was not converted to smart devices because it would have meant designing custom electronics for the plush, Lyngeled explains.

The status of the original WeeWaa is on hold. It is possible that WeeWaa could see a possible future on Wii U which supports the Wii remote.

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TheO 1TheO is a set of apps usable with a specialty made foam ball. In order to use TheO, users place a smart device in the ball. The ball then supports various games and activities played by rolling or throwing it.

TheO is a custom made foam ball combined with dedicated mobile apps that facilitate various physical games and activities. TheO ball can be safely rolled, tossed and bounced, with the smart device protected safely and securely inside, while players physically interact with each other.

Harnessing the various sensors and features current smart phones support, TheO apps turn the simple foam ball into a “smart ball” capable of various sorts of mobile play. The initial apps include a Bowling game where players can play each other in the same room, displayed on the smart phone, or any IP-enabled device, or with friends across the web. Additional custom apps include a physically active Hot Potato game and a socially interactive game called Interrogo. Besides taking advantage of the smart device features such as acceleration sensing, direction and motion sensing, the apps harness sound and also Bluetooth capabilities, allowing TheO to link with additional accessories.

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48 hour Bebbu-experiment (SCORE game jam)

Bebbu was made on a game jam October, 2012 organized by a local gaming club SCORE at Tampere, Finland. He was ideated, designed, programmed and sewn in less than 48 hours.

Description of the prototype:
Bebbu is a hybrid toy, a smartphone slip-in plushie targeted to adults. He is a middle-aged plushie-monster that is bolding from more than one place. He would like to be a super-hero, but his life is so miserable, that the only place he can be happy, is when he is asleep. Player helps him stay happy with happy thoughts while he dreams. He features a naked butt that is covered with his super-hero-cape. When held on one hand, the user touches Bebbus butt.

Game design: Kati Alha
Toy design: Annakaisa Kultima
Graphic design: Ilkka Tauriainen
Programming: Juhani Hujala

The process (from the perspective of Annakaisa Kultima):


Very short period of ideating: I had been thinking to utilize jamming to Hybridex topics, so I pitched physical/digital concept with this character.

I went back home to get some supplies and my sewing machine.

I started with first prototype of the Hybbi slip-in doll.

22:30 We added “a butt-feature” to the character. It was first only a joke, but then very shortly decided to actually include it to the physical design.


I brought more supplies and some inspirational stuff from the work (book of toys and similar product; Happy Happitat).


During the night, I put together the toy: it was ready somewhere around 4am or later. I tidied the workstation & went back to home to sleep.

Came back to help with presentation (only 30 minutes time).

Kati improvised one last piece of the description while presenting: “Bebbu is bolding from not only one place”. It made sense.

The experience was fun, we learned a lot and it was also a good start for the experiments in this project.

Some lessons learned + notes:

  • We started with loose “Hybbi” fiction, but ended up with a character, that might be just a relative of Hybbi and changed his name to Bebbu.
  • Original Hybbi character was too “simple” to provide more tactile experiences with fur and all other surfaces.
  • Original Hybbi had too short hands for more fun character
  • Original Hybbi was too tamed/childish for adult audience
  • The game program ended up much more simple than original design was about.
  • The graphic designer did not work too iteratively and we had a too little time to sync the styles of physical and digital realms; the art ended up being slightly different than what I expected.
Photo 28.10.2012 11.56.29

Bebbu and iPhone.

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Inserting the iPhone.

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The bold butt of Bebbu – behind the cape.

Photo 27.10.2012 22.37.10


Photo 28.10.2012 11.55.29

The gameplay of Bebbu: push good thoughts into the brain, push bad thoughts outward. If too many bad thoughts gets into the head of Bebbu, he wakes up and screams.

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Slip-ins and playful protection cases

Slip-ins and playful protection cases 4

Many kinds of protective smart device covers double as children’s toys/designer toys. While some are mere decorative cases, some are accompanied with a dedicated app adding interactive character aspect to the product.  

Since the beginning of smart devices, users have tried to protect their phones and tablets from accidental falling and rough handling. This has led many manufacturers to design more and more attractive cases for different user segments. One such emerging category is the smart device cases doubling as toys and playful characters. Some of these “slip-ins” allow user to slide their device into a plush toy which then becomes a sound-and-interaction-enhanced smart toy. Some toys leave openings in the plushie, letting parts of the device screen remain App Toys 2visible for touch controls and visual input/output.

A typical slip-in, YetYet by Totoya Creatures, a cuddly yeti-like creature, lets children interact with it via touch openings. A less interactive (though perhaps more protective) case is the iGuy by Speck Products. iGuy is a durable foam case for iPad that doubles both as a stand and as a character that children can play with. Yanko Design’s iWhale depicts a whale. The “blowhole” doubles as a headphone jack, while the curled tail allows the whale to grip to a number of surfaces like handlebars or rear-view mirrors.