“The key was to create an instrument for all children,” explains Skoog co-inventor Dr. Ben Schögler. “That includes kids with disabilities, whether physical or learning disabilities. It was made to be an inclusive instrument, because musical instruments are beautiful, they’re fantastic, but they’re difficult to play.”
Born out of Edinburg University in 2006, with help from funding by the U.K.’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), Skoog is a small, squishy musical instrument that’s simple by design.
“A lot of electronic instruments are really just versions of their acoustic counterpart,” says Schögler. “But if the computer is making the sound, the interface can be anything you want. We stripped it back and were looking for an object that’s intuitive enough to be used without having to be explained.”
The result is a small cube with five sides monopolized by big, brightly colored half-circles, buttons that serve as a sort of analog to a string or piano key, triggering sounds determined by a connected computer, not unlike a MIDI controller.
The company launched the first Skoog in 2012, after receiving an initial VC round two years prior. It was strange and somewhat rudimentary, but the product’s simplicity landed it on the radar of classrooms — special education departments in particular. To date, the first-generation product has a user base of around 2,000, a modest number, but enough to have gained the notice of Apple, which began promoting it as an accessibility device through its retail channels.
That same year, the company began work on a new version of the product, swapping the USB for wireless, as part of an attempt to embrace the growing use of iPads in special education curriculums.
In late 2015, Skoog took the product to Indiegogo, raising funding for the 2.0 version, which, along with the aforementioned wireless connectivity also features in-app integration with music services like iTunes and Spotify. The app automatically recognizes and matches the song’s key, so users can play alongside it.
The Skoog 2.0 hits retail stores today for $300, bringing with it the promise of potential use cases outside of the educational world. Schögler points to retirement communities that have experimented with the device for use with patients suffering from dementia. And then, of course, there’s the occasional intentionally awkward viral video hit.
The company is also exploring avenues outside of music. “It is a tactile, multidimensional controller,” says Schögler. “It could be used for things like gaming, but that requires us to get the API out. We’re a small firm and we’ve been working on the app, but we’ll be looking to release that as soon as we can. “