WHAT’S TURTLE MAIL?
Turtle Mail is a wooden mailbox for kids. It contains an embedded thermal printer and is WiFi connected. Family and friends can send the children they love special messages from a mobile or desktop device. Parents can also sign their children up to receive daily activities and subscribe to content from fictional characters and toys.
With Turtle Mail, children will get to regularly experience the anticipation and delight of receiving something new from their loved ones or favorite characters. They’ll also get something to hold on to, put in their pocket, decorate, collect in a scrapbook, and share with family and friends. They’ll be able to use technology to play and connect with the people who love them.
- Delivers incoming mail at a specified time each day
- Can receive messages from parent-approved friends and family members, sent from the Turtle Mail WebApp or email
- Prints customized activities based on subscription settings and child’s profile (including name, age, grade level, favorites, and interests)
- Generates personal messages from children’s existing toys when parents create a Toy Profile through the Turtle Mail WebApp
- Learns and remembers child’s interests with parental feedback and tailors content accordingly
- Generated activities grow in reading level, complexity, and content as the child ages
- Uses thermal printing so no ink is required
- Connects via home WiFi
PARENTS USE A WEBAPP TO MANAGE CONTENT
All of the information Turtle Mail receives is directly obtained from parents through the WebApp. Parents will be in complete control of who is allowed to send content to their children. Content includes mail and images from family and friends, Turtle Mail activities, and pre-generated messages from toys and characters. The WebApp provides a preview of pending messages and the ability to edit the content we provide or delete mail from the queue. We will have the ability to store digital messages, in case families would like to go back and reprint that content at a later date.
Our current version of the WebApp has the basic features we need for testing Turtle Mail with families. We will continue development with a focus on user experience. Throughout this process we’ll need an active community of backers to help us refine our designs. We will have the primary functions built by the time we deliver, and this development will be ongoing, even after Turtle Mail is released to backers.
DAILY CONTENT FROM TURTLE MAIL
Through the WebApp, parents can elect to have their children receive daily activity content from Turtle Mail. While Turtle Mail can be used by people of pretty much any age (safety tested for children 3+), the activity content provided in our WebApp is geared toward children ages 3-8 years old. We are currently developing this content in-house, but we are looking to expand into commercial partnerships so we can provide branded character content to families who want that experience.
For now, our content will include our team’s original creations and public domain materials. We’ll continue to add activities, characters, categories and themes to our library as we develop. Feel free to make suggestions! Our early activity category ideas include:
- Word games
- Riddles and jokes
- Drawing prompts
- Coloring pictures
- Cut-out puzzles and tangrams
- Story prompts
- Scavenger hunts
- Multiplayer pen-and-paper games
- Random facts
- No-bake recipes
Parents can send pre-generated messages from characters that address their child by name. Parents will also be able to customize the messages to better fit their child and the occasion. Our early character selections will consist only of public domain entities.
Once we expand our WebApp’s features and capabilities, parents will be able to use it to create Toy Profiles. They can submit information, keywords, and phrases about their child’s favorite toy, like name, type of toy, how it’s played with, and how the child sees its personality. Once a toy profile is created, Turtle Mail will send periodic messages from that toy that match its personality and encourage children to play with it in new, adventurous ways. Parents will also have the ability to adjust each individual message before it’s delivered. Relevant information for a Toy Profile might include:
- How long has the child had the toy?
- Does the child travel with the toy?
- Is the toy an animal? (dog, bear, frog…)
- How does the child play with the toy? (feeds it, dresses it up…)
- What is the toy’s personality? (goofy, brave, mischievous…)
UNDER THE SHELL
- Laser cut birch wood shell
- Injection molded plastic interior attached to wooden base
- 58mm thermal printer with 384 dots per line
- Prints at 75mm/second
- BPA-free 2 1/4″ thermal paper roll
- Custom PCB with WiFi-enabled chip
- AC/DC power input
- Laser cut birch wood shell
WHAT WE’RE ALL ABOUT
Our goal is to bring the limitless possibilities of technology to children’s toys in unique and imaginative ways. We design our toys in a way that allows children to use technology to create their own adventures and connect with the world around them. Our toys give children memory-building experiences with the people, characters, and toys they love.
But unlike other tech toys, our products don’t have screens. We want to give children more than the typical, fleeting technology encounter that distracts more than it engages. So we combined unique technologies with traditional materials to inspire imaginative playtime experiences.
In 2012, Alysia and Niko had their daughter, Aedren. When Aedren was one, Alysia had a moment of realization – two overpriced electronic toys, that were advertised as being “smart”, were simultaneously calling for Aedren’s attention in the loudest, most repetitive manner possible. Yet, Aedren was content playing with her wooden blocks a few feet away.
Based on her Interaction Design experiences at Carnegie Mellon University, Alysia knew there were more inventive ways to use technology. She started noticing that many tech toys weren’t built with children’s development in mind – they simply aimed to distract children, not entertain or enrich them.
That night, Alysia couldn’t sleep. Her mind was whirling with ideas for how to use technology to encourage children to play with more creative, hands-on activities. She took those ideas to her design professor and created an independent study to explore the possibilities.
Niko worked with Alysia to expand her ideas and create visuals and prototypes. After getting an extremely positive reception from parents, kids, peers, and even investors, Alysia and Niko decided to continue their work as a formal company. Since their daughter was the inspiration, they named the company after her: AE Dreams. Shortly after joining Project Olympus, a CMU incubator, they pitched Turtle Mail to AlphaLab Gear, a Pittsburgh hardware accelerator. Through these resources they received seed funding and mentorship to flesh out their business and manufacturing plans.
They built a team, recruiting from CMU’s talent, with backgrounds in design, engineering, child psychology, business, and marketing. Many team members are parents, and each member joined the project because they believed in the vision of using technology to make kids’ playtime more meaningful and magical.
EVOLUTION OF TURTLE MAIL
Turtle Mail wasn’t always the adorable toy it is today. We started with storyboards for concepts that merged virtual world and real world play. Our ideas ranged from interactive blocks and room decor to apps that monitored and rewarded playtime activities. We learned a lot in the process of sharing our ideas with families, and we ended up with two big insights: parents were very exhausted with the screen-based play toward which their children naturally gravitated, and families enjoyed activities that brought them closer together and created shared memories.
That’s when the idea for Turtle Mail was conceived – a toy that could use connectivity to its advantage in drawing kids to real world play and interactions. One of our early designs had Turtle Mail as an utility-style wall fixture… we snapped to our senses very quickly and started prototyping models of Turtle Mail in a more kid-friendly form. We ultimately decided to design it to look like a hybrid of a Turtle and an old-school mailbox. We left its ornamentation simple so that kids will be able to decorate and modify their Turtle Mail to fit their own ideas about its personality. We also experimented with movement, light, and sounds to indicate a delivery. While adding mechanics proved too expensive, we’re still considering the addition of light and sound to alert children that mail’s waiting.
We explored a variety of material during our prototyping. We thought that plastic would be the winner for production; however, we prototyped in wood because it was easy to work with early on, and kids and parents loved it! The combination of technology with the more traditional feel of a wooden toy solidified the Turtle Mail experience as one of excitement, imagination, and nostalgia.
We’ve been testing Turtle Mail for the past nine months, and we’ve worked with hundreds of kids, parents, and grandparents to make the Turtle Mail experience one that entire families can get excited about.
Alysia Finger – Founder
Niko Triulzi – Founder
Sam Gao – Product Designer
Bryan Gardiner – Hardware Engineer
Olga Pogoda – Marketing Director
Meg Kurdziolek – User Experience Designer
Penny, Tommy, and Aedren – Product Testers (Our Kids)