Having a (Smart)Ball

UNC alumnus Adam Wilson at his desk in the offices of Orbotix, the company he co-founded.

As an undergraduate student at UNC, Adam Wilson began throwing around ideas for a smartphone-controlled robot with friend and fellow techie Ian Bernstein. At the time, Wilson had no way of knowing just how far their concept for the "next big thing" in high-tech gadgetry would take them.

Wilson completed degrees in Math and Physics at UNC in 2010, and joined Bernstein in founding Orbotix. They dove into the implementation of their vision, securing $50,000 in initial funds through Boulder-based startup accelerator Techstars and forging a life-changing relationship with seasoned entrepreneur and current Orbotix CEO Paul Berberian.

Wilson's company has been making big waves among tech aficionados and casual gamers ever since with its trademark Sphero product line: three generations of round little robots (think remote-controlled ball billed as "better than any RC car") that are equally at home in the backyard doing stunts and in the classroom teaching kids basic concepts in programming and mathematics. Here's a rundown on a few milestones in Wilson's brief but impressive career as Orbotix's chief software architect.

  • Orbotix has been garnering attention from investors and tech industry experts alike. The company has raised more than $35 million in investor capital since its founding in 2010. Fast Company magazine ranked it among giants like Google and Amazon on their list of the top 10 most innovative companies in consumer electronics.
  • Sphero's profile has continued to rise in popular culture. In addition to making cameo appearances on The Big Bang Theory and American Horror Story, Sphero went viral after an enthusiastic tweet from actor Neil Patrick Harris generated so much traffic that it crashed the company's website. A YouTube video of President Barack Obama piloting a Sphero during his 2012 visit to Boulder has been viewed more than 225,000 times.
  • There are more than 30 official apps for Sphero from a practical measuring device to a motion-sensitive video game controller. The MacroLab and orbBasic apps allow users to develop their programming skills and have been used by teachers across the country to teach schoolchildren the basics of programming in the classroom.
  • At UNC, Wilson led a NASA-funded project to create a system that would allow students to program and control a robot named Odin over the Internet.
  • In addition to serving as president of UNC's Chess Club, Wilson was an active student-ambassador for the College of Natural and Health Sciences. He continues to serve as a member of the NHS advisory board.