An Akron company seems to be having great success with a new little gadget.
Meet Thumby – pronounced ThumBee – a retro-style keychain game player who really isn’t bigger than an inch.
And a little bit more. Really small.
This is the brainchild of TinyCircuits, which specializes in the design, engineering and manufacture of very small consumer products, largely aimed at gamers and hobbyists, using open source software and hardware.
Crowdfunding Shows Thumby’s Popularity
TinyCircuits turned to the Kickstarter crowdfunder to raise money to make Thumby, with the goal of raising at least $ 15,000 by October 28. The company has used Kickstarter to fund other product launches over the years.
The Thumby fundraiser began in late September and by Thursday afternoon more than $ 148,000 had been pledged by more than 3,300 backers. The base pledge of $ 19 gives a contributor a Thumby in “classic gray,” while a $ 24 pledge gives the contributor more color choices.
“We reached our goal in two hours,” said Ken Burns, Founder and President of TinyCircuits. The company is located at 540 S. Main St. in Akron, on the Canal Place campus.
Production will start ramping up in the near future once the Kickstarter campaign ends, Burns said.
“This is our fifth Kickstarter,” he said. “The idea of the Kickstarter is to get the money to do mass production.”
The pre-production versions of Thumby received positive reviews on popular YouTube channels such as The Retro Future, Hackster Cafe, and others. The Buzzfeed news site said: “Thumby would be the coolest and most unique accessory of the year.”
TinyCircuits basically took gaming tech from the 1980s and 1990s and micro-sized it.
Each Thumby is a fully playable gaming system with a bright OLED display, four-way D-pad (directional control pad), and two game buttons, and comes preloaded with five free open source games:
• TinyBlocks – A puzzle game
• Space debris – A space shooter
• Annelid – A Snake Game
• TinyKnight – A dungeon adventure game
• Saur Run – The player is a small dinosaur that runs and jumps
Users can also download their own games to the device and perform their own Thumby programming using a micro USB cable to connect to a computer. A Thumby Link cable also enables multiplayer support. The device uses an internal battery that recharges via USB.
Idea germinated years ago
Thumby as a concept is between 5 and 6 years old, Burns said. “It’s like a little Game Boy,” he said. Thumby was put on the back burner because TinyCircuits had other priorities at the time, he said.
“We’ve always talked about doing it.… So this is the year we finally got to do it,” Burns said.
TinyCircuits has grown over the years and now occupies approximately 13,000 square feet of space at Canal Place. He added production equipment and employees.
It came out with Tiny Arcade, another small gaming device, over five years ago that has proven to be popular, Burns said. And there are other TinyCircuit devices and kits as well.
“TinyTV is very popular,” Burns said. TinyTV looks like an old-fashioned little TV console with a real video screen, speaker, and working remote control.
“You can put your own videos in there,” Burns said. “It would be our bestseller right now. It’s probably our most popular kit before Thumby.”
Thumby makes TinyTV look big, Burns said.
Thumby ‘easy’ to program for kids
“The point is, it’s kind of new,” he said. “The other cool thing is [Thumby] is really easy to program. We see it as kind of an introduction to programming for kids too. Just plug it into a computer and they can create their own game. It appears in a web browser and you can edit the code in Python and create your own games. “
“People have a lot of fun with our products,” said Laveréna Wienclaw, Associate Engineer.
TinyCircuits has been affected by the current global supply chain issues, Burns said, but said they should have obtained enough parts to meet demand for the new Thumby.
The company is expected to receive enough parts in eight weeks to manufacture 10,000 Thumbies, he said. “If so, we are perfectly on target,” he said.
Kickstarter supporters have been told February is the target month for the Thumbies expedition, but Burns said he hopes to get a lot out of it before Christmas.
“We’re going to do them all here,” he said. “We may also have to hire people to do it. “
TinyCircuits expands its capabilities
TinyCircuits has expanded its capabilities in recent years, notably by purchasing new “Pick and Place” machines to manufacture printed circuits.
TinyCircuits has also become more than a manufacturer of toys and hobby kits.
This is the engineering and contracting of robotic golf caddies, which follow players around a course, for Georgia-based golf cart manufacturer Club Car. And it’s the prototyping of a portable, game-like fitness device that school kids can use and learn. Akron’s public schools will test the devices in some of its schools this year, he said.
If this first phase of testing proves successful, the “gameified” fitness tracker will likely hit the market, Burns said. “It’s a cool little product,” he said.
Meanwhile, Burns said he was quite amazed at Thumby’s response.
“We thought if we did it right it would be kind of a blockbuster product,” Burns said. “We were hoping to reach our goal in about a day and we thought it would be a major success. We reached it in two hours.  pre-orders in two minutes. “
Jim Mackinnon is not a big player and worries his fingers are too big to play on a Thumby. Either way, he covers business and can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or at www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.