Five years ago I was watching my pre-teen boys play videogame after videogame. They were glued to the couch. Wanting to get them off the couch and outside, I went into my garage and made swords out of black foam and PVC pipes. I then brought my boys outside for some good, old-fashioned homemade swordplay.
It was a lot of fun except for one thing, they lost interest because you couldn’t figure out who won. There was a lot of arguing and many claims of “I hit you” and “no you didn’t.”
That’s when I had the idea. What if I could make foam swords that keep score. I’m a computer engineer by trade, so thought to myself, I bet I could get these swords to keep score electronically.
From that day forward, I was determined to make it happen, but it wasn’t easy. I tinkered in my garage but couldn’t get it to work so I eventually gave up. But I never really gave up completely. I kept thinking there had to be a way to make it work and kept searching for the answer. I searched the Internet for other people who’d done something similar, and all I could find information on was fencing.
Five years later, I was driving down the road, and it hit me. I was overthinking the whole thing. My original plan focused on a complicated proximity detection scheme or another option that used the swordsman’s body as a data conduit, but both of those ideas were too complicated and not even invented yet. So I simplified it and thought, this just might work.
Once I figured it out, I got a couple of Ardruino development kits and plugged them into a couple of wireless chips. After testing them out a few times I realised, 'Wow, this actually is going to work'.
I asked my friend Tim Reichard to join my quest, to give us a web presence and to help with logistics in his spare time while I continued to work on the swords. I then built the first two Sabertron prototypes out of PVC and foam, just like the versions from the backyard. However, after playing for just a few moments, Tim and I realised that wouldn’t work even for prototype testing. They were way too heavy, weighing about a couple of pounds each.
We made the decision to switch to off-the-shelf foam swords. I put sensors into the sword handles and put the Arduinos in a fanny pack with the health meter on my chest and back. Finally, we played the first game of Sabertron, and it was a lot of fun. But the system was bulky and still not good enough to demonstrate the idea well.
I proceeded to build new prototypes that utilise 3D printing. I found a mechanical engineer on Elance to develop the 3D model of the handle. I then wrapped this model in LED light strips to act like a health meter. Around this time, Joe Mandy joined the team and set out to help with our social media presence.
Then, on the week before Christmas, the company where I worked ran out of funding and went out of business. I was laid off without severance along with 125 employees.
Needing to figure out what to do next, I decided to go all in with Sabertron. I quickly realised that no one would be doing any hiring until well into the new year, so I went full-time on Sabertron and got the prototypes ready to launch by late January.
Our first Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success. Well, except, it didn’t meet the funding goal.
Our goal was to raise $195,000, and we raised $55,527. But the experience was priceless and helped us gain exposure and make some great connections. I kept working to improve the prototypes and to get ready for a Kickstarter relaunch.
I’m really excited about our current project on Kickstarter and can’t wait to bring Sabertron to life for kids and grown-up kids everywhere. You really can’t understand how much fun it is to fight with foam swords until you play with them yourself, and it’s impossible to play without a smile on your face.
We also have some big things planned, including a melee mode that will allow more than two players to play at a time, accessories for Sabertron, and a bunch more ideas for connected game play.
To learn more, you visit our Kickstarter campaign page or watch our launch video below.
If you are a toy inventor or designer and you'd like to share your story, email us at Blangsworthy@newbaymedia.com.