That’s smart, and cute: Friends create stuffed animals to dress up Amazon and Google speakers

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The lineup of crocheted Kenzie animals design to sit over the top of smart speakers from Amazon and Google. (Kenzie Photo)

That smart speaker in your home could serve as the base for another smart — and adorable — idea if you buy into what Eric Grudzien and Karen McIlquham have created.

The pair are the founders of Kenzie, a new company that wants to disrupt nursery decor with crocheted animal figures designed to slide over the top of Amazon’s Echo or Dot and Google’s Home or Home Mini.

Grudzien owns his own software consulting firm and McIlquham is a lab manager at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital. The two friends met through a shared family interest in ice hockey. She provides the skill behind creating Kenzies, and together the two launched a Kickstarter on Tuesday to gauge whether others are into the idea.

“The whole intention around it is how can we change home decor a little bit,” Grudzien said. “Because we’ve got lots of these devices throughout our house.”

Eric Grudzien and Karen McIlquham, co-founders of Kenzie, hold two of the crocheted animal creations that are designed to slide over the top of smart speakers from Amazon and Google. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Right now it takes McIlquham about eight hours and $6 worth of yarn to craft a single animal by hand, and choices include a giraffe, pig, cat, bear, octopus and frog. There is no automation in crochet work, but Kenzie plans to use skilled labor in Mexico to manufacture the product at greater scale.

Hardware designers at Amazon and Google certainly built their products with an intended look and function, which likely didn’t involve hiding them under a stuffed animal.

But Grudzien and McIlquham think Kenzie — which borrows its name from one of Grudzien’s daughters — provides something more unique and playful in a child’s room. Picture asking Alexa to play a lullaby and having the sound come from inside what looks like a stuffed animal on the shelf.

And as far as that speaker sound goes, it just comes across as a little bit muffled.

“The way that I sort of look at it is it softens it a little more — softer tone or softer voice,” Grudzien said. “That was one of the core things that we tested. The sound actually permeates really well.”

Even without the speaker inside, kids will likely be drawn to the hand-crafted stuffed animals from Kenzie. (Kenzie Photo)

McIlquham has crafted custom Kenzies for her daughter and her college roommates, adding little scarves with school colors. The possibilities for future designs seem endless whether it’s animals to consider — a dog, fox and owl are already on the list — or sports team colors or special editions for holidays — Easter bunny, Halloween ghost, Christmas snowman.

The founders can also imagine some software component down the road for the soft creation. Perhaps an Alexa skill or Google action in the which the voice assistant inside the animal is commanded to tell a Kenzie story.

Kenzie’s crowdfunding goal is $30,000. Early bird pricing on the taller models is $50 up to $70. The animals will retail for $75 after Kickstarter, with shorter Dot and Mini models going for $55. The plan is to build an online store to handle fulfillment.

“We have not seen anything that looks like this or behaves like this, that’s why we think it’s going to be … there’s that tech word … ‘disruptive,’” Grudzien said.



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