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Andy Rubin’s design lab Playground is finally bringing products to market

Smart pool monitors, drone components, robotic arms and cameras you can talk to.

Google Previews New Android 3.0 'Honeycomb' Operating System Justin Sullivan / Getty

In the past twelve months, Playground Global, the hardware design lab and $300 million venture fund co-founded by Andy Rubin, the inventor of the Android operating system, has started to see a handful of the companies it supports bring products to market.

Back when Rubin started Playground in 2015, the idea was to build a place that would make it dramatically easier to create the next generation of intelligent machines. It helps startups not only by leveraging the experience of Rubin and the other co-founders — who were central in bringing wildly popular products like smartphones, web TV and CD-ROM video games to market — but also by providing the basic building blocks startups can use to bring new hardware to life.

There are some things that pretty much all smart machines need, like high levels of encryption — especially, say, if the device is collecting data in people’s homes. Devices also typically need ways to receive updates over the internet, microphone arrays and a smartphone app. The idea with Playground is that the studio can provide building blocks like this so the inventors can stick to perfecting the design of their original product idea.

For those who want to keep track, here are some of the products Playground has helped bring into the world in the past year:

  • Phin: A smart pool and hot tub monitoring system that uses sensors for keeping track of water chemistry, a smartphone app and a subscription service that sends the chemicals needed to maintain safe water quality. This is the first product from ConnectedYard, a Playground-backed company that debuted last month. Phin is now available at Ace Hardware stores starting at $300.
  • Lighthouse: A smart home camera that can actually search its video history for specific people or events that were caught on camera and to tell residents when something unusual happened, like if a new teenager entered the house or a dog escaped. The camera became available for preorder earlier this month starting at $400.
  • Uavionix: An aviation hardware company that primarily makes communications components to help drones communicate with air traffic control systems and other drones and manned aircraft. The company received funding from Playground last year, and in the past 12 months has come out with over 20 new hardware products.
  • RightHand Robotics: A robotics company that developed a robotic arm, called RightPick, with a grabber that can pick individual items out of bin. It’s designed to help fulfill e-commerce orders and is currently for sale for early adopters.
  • Nauto: A company that makes an inward- and outward-facing artificially intelligent car camera system that can detect when a driver is distracted, alert them to pay attention and keep tabs on what’s happening on the road. Nauto received funding from Playground last year and has since rolled out its camera technology in dozens of commercial transportation fleets.

Andy Rubin is also a working on his own startup at Playground, called Essential, where he’s making a new smartphone. Rubin teased a photo of that new device last month, which Eric Schmidt later confirmed is indeed running Android.

Playground itself is located behind an old Fry’s Electronics shop in Palo Alto, Calif., a Silicon Valley town about 35 miles south of San Francisco.

Inside, the startups that Playground supports have access to an impressive machine shop with all kinds of 3-D printers, milling machines and laser cutters, as well as a fancy electronics shop and reliability lab where inventors can test the durability of their designs — not to mention dozens of engineers on staff there to help Playground’s entrepreneurs bring their designs to fruition.

And yes, there is a real playground inside, too.

Andy Rubin is joining Recode on stage later this month at our annual Code Conference, where some of the most interesting people in the world sit down for live, unscripted interviews with journalists about the current and future impact of digital technology.

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