Look out Haxlr8r; move over Lemnos Labs, you might have competition for that next batch of baby startups. Android co-founder, Apple nemesis, and former Web TV engineer Andy Rubin left Google last year with plans to launch a hardware incubator. At the time, Rubin was running robotics projects at Google.
This month, Rubin unveiled the basic details, like the name—Playground Global—and the investors, which include Foxconn, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Seagate.
The inclusion of Foxconn makes it clear that Rubin is going to take a page out of Haxlr8r’s book and connect hardware designers at the earliest stages with folks in China that know how to make hardware. This has been part of Haxlr8r’s path to success: It ensures that whatever is designed on its turf doesn’t have to be completely redesigned before it can be manufactured. Haxlr8r does this by bringing its startup founders to Shenzhen, China and connecting them to manufacturers there.
With Foxconn onboard, Playground Global’s incubatees will have an easy path to such connections. Indeed, Rubin told The Wall Street Journal that his incubator will have product experts help its startup founders work with Foxconn. According to the WSJ article, Playground Global’s other investors will have specific roles as well: Google and Seagate will help founders connect products to the cloud, and HP will help with product distribution.
Rubin raised $48 million for the incubator itself, which is currently based in Los Altos, Calif. He’s also put together a venture fund, Playground Ventures, with at least $242 million to invest in companies that come out of Playground Global. Separately, Rubin just joined Redpoint Ventures, which will likely also make investments in Playground Global companies.
So Rubin is building a place where hardware entrepreneurs can get a lot of help and, potentially, money—but Rubin also appears to be building Playground Global simply as a place where he’s going to want to hang out. That is, the Playground part of the name is no accident. Points out Redpoint Partner Jeff Brody in a recent blog post: “Whenever I visit Andy, he always has the newest thing, the yet-to-be available gadget. Years ago, he smuggled from Japan the smallest flip phone in production. He kept robotic dogs as pets. Andy bought one of the first Segways and immediately drove it up a half-pipe, just to see how the gyroscopic systems would react. At Google, he modified a huge auto manufacturing robotic arm to make a cappuccino and stamp the Android logo on it in chocolate. Later, he had a near life-size humanoid robot that followed you around.”
Leading Playground Global with Rubin are Web TV co-founder Bruce Leak and Peter Barrett, previously CTO of CloudCar and Microsoft TV, who also worked with Rubin at Web TV.
To date, the team also includes Jory Bell, a former Apple engineer who co-founded micro-laptop company OQO; Xiaoyu Miao, who worked on Google Glass; Clinton Lazzari, who helped build autonomous ocean-going vehicles with Liquid Robotics and autonomous airborne vehicles with Dionysus Design; and Brian Swetland, a software engineer who worked with Rubin at Android and Danger.
While Playground Global has yet to announce when it will bring its first class of startups on board, it has started looking for proposals. Says its website: “We invite you to come play.”
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.