Canine creation a winner

ChewBots dog toys take InVenture Prize competition for 2013

“Dogs deserve a little more creativity,” Chris Taylor said in his presentation during the finals of Georgia Tech’s InVenture Prize competition in March. The junior mechanical engineering major was talking about ChewBots, the fully automated robotic dog toys that he invented.

Apparently the judges agreed with him; they awarded Taylor first prize in the competition. He hopes to manufacture ChewBots  for the commercial market and the prize will definitely help. He won  $20,000 in cash and a free U.S. patent filing for his invention through Georgia Tech’s Office of Technology Licensing. In addition, he was automatically accepted into Flashpoint, the school’s startup accelerator program.

The faculty-led InVenture Prize competition is held every year for Georgia Tech undergraduate students who work independently or on teams to develop and present inventions that are judged by experts. During the first round of judging, the faculty whittled the field of 164 registrants down to 26. Then the field was  narrowed down to six teams or individuals who each presented their inventions before judges and an audience of about 1,000 people during a live television program on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Although he had researched and practiced his pitch for six weeks, Taylor said the experience was nerve-wracking.

“I’d dreamed of winning the InVenture contest since I started at Tech, but I never really thought I would,” he said. “All the finalists’ inventions were really good, so I was shocked and amazed when I won — not to mention happy. I always wanted to be patentholder and now I will be.”

Taylor got the idea for ChewBots by watching his mother throw a toy to her dog.

“The dog was happy, but I could tell that mom was getting tired and bored with the game,” Taylor said. “When I realized it was a repetitive task, I immediately thought of robots.”

Taylor is no novice to  robotics. He helped build a robot for the national FIRST Robotics Competition when he was a freshman at Paideia High School in Atlanta. High school teams from across the nation are assigned a task and given a kit of parts and a budget to build and operate a robot.

“When we programmed our guy to play tic-tac-toe, I fell in love. Nothing could stop me from building robots,” Taylor said.

In fact, he built one that walked across the stage and accepted his high school diploma at graduation.

“The principal said that I had to come up personally and shake his hand, but he handed the diploma to the robot,” he said.

Besides his mechanical engineering major, Taylor is working toward a certificate in finance, which he believes will prove useful for future entrepreneurial ventures . While  robots have proven invaluable in manufacturing and medicine, Taylor thinks  the field is wide open for personal, day-to-day applications, such as dog toys.

Having built robots for other competitions, Taylor enrolled in Georgia Tech’s student-led Startup Semester program in fall 2012. The program is a startup accelerator program for students who have entrepreneurial aspirations. It was then that he built his first prototypes for ChewBots.

“It’s been a wild ride. I told people that sleep, robots and school were consuming all my time, and something had to go. Turns out, it was sleep,” he said. “I don’t know how many hours I have (invested) in ChewBots. I’d do my homework and then stay up late working on them.”

As Taylor explained to the InVenture judges, the dog toy industry in the United States generates about $50 billion in sales every year and dog ownership is at an all-time high. Yet, there has been little innovation in the market. The toys are either designed for chewing or they make squeaking noises.

Taylor adapted existing toys to design a snowman and a pig that vibrate, and a duck on wheels that moves and changes direction at will. He tested his models on friends’ canines  at the Piedmont Dog Park near his apartment.

“I underestimated a dog’s ability to chew through anything, so I’m using more resilient materials now, but the reaction from the dogs has been very positive. They love chasing them,” he said.

Some dog owners have asked Taylor to sell them ChewBots, so Taylor is keeping a list of prospective clients and has launched a website (www.chewbots.co). He plans to market the toys in the $15 to $25 range.