Have you ever wanted to own a Star Trek Tribble? Well, now you can thanks to the passionate Trekkies from Science Division LLC who have created an “Interactive Tribble” that you can soon have in your own hands.
Tribbles have captivated Star Trek fans since they first appeared in “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode back in 1967, since then they’ve become a fan favourite and appeared in many other Star Trek shows including Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Recently, I sat down with the founders of Science Division LLC, Kayleigha and Jay Zawacki, who came up with the idea of an Interactive Tribble that people could purchase. Over the course of the interview, I learned quite a lot on what goes on with the production of these furry friends.
Jack: Can you introduce yourselves and tell us what Science Division LLC does and how you got started?
Kayleigha: Absolutely! Science Division is just the two of us, Jay and Kayleigha. We are a husband and wife team who founded the company with the sole purpose of sharing our app-enabled interactive Tribbles with other Star Trek fans.
I am a life-long Star Trek fan. Dad started us out young. He had every episode on VHS, so my sister and I could pick one out and watch it with him whenever we wanted. “The Trouble with Tribbles” was the first episode he showed us. It’s the one that you show your kids when you want them to love Star Trek—and it worked. We even had an Enterprise bridge in our backyard that Dad built for us. I actually just wrote my very first blog post about growing up with Dad and Star Trek. It’s posted on our website. The show shaped who I am today, and this project was a homage to that first childhood connection with it.
Jay: I got assimilated into the Trek fandom by marriage, and have been a big fan ever since. Kayleigha and I first bonded over sci-fi, but I had never gotten into the Star Trek universe growing up. It can be rather daunting if you don’t have someone to guide the way.
Kayleigha: As soon as things got serious when we were dating, it was time to get him started on Star Trek. Luckily, he liked it. We have watched every episode together. We started with TOS and worked our way through. I hadn’t seen a lot of the other series, so it was awesome to experience those for the first time together.
Jack: What is it like creating Tribbles and what is so special about them?
Jay: They feel like real Tribbles—like you have a real pet Tribble in your living room!
Kayleigha: It’s funny, really. Creating the Tribble was the easy part. It was a passion project that began in our living room and has just kept growing. Every once in awhile we have to remember to step back from the day to day of running a small business for the first time and take in just how amazing it is that we have made it this far. I had never had a chance to attend Star Trek Las Vegas before this year, and there we were as vendors at the convention! It’s so amazing to be a part of this Star Trek community. Everyone is so welcoming and supportive.
Jack: Would you be able to give us some insight into how the Star Trek Interactive Tribble Product idea came to be?
Kayleigha: I always wanted a pet Tribble. In the 90’s you couldn’t just do an Internet search and find a Tribble, so I had to make my own—Snowball. I made the tiniest little white Tribble out of faux fur left over from my bunny Halloween costume. As I grew up, Tribbles started to become available but they never did all of the things that I really wanted my pet Tribble to be able to do.
Dad and I had been joking for years about an app-enabled Tribble that you could “set off” on your friends with the touch of a button. The project kind of grew as Dad, Jay and I joked about it, and one day Jay and I decided to see if we could make a Tribble that not only satisfied my requirement that it be a living Tribble, but that also incorporated Dad’s idea that it could be controlled from an app.
Jack: – How did you create ‘The First” Tribble, maybe you could share a story on how the first prototype went?
Kayleigha: We did a lot of research to determine how two people who knew nothing about coding and very little about electronics could build a Tribble from scratch.
Jay: We found the Arduino microcontroller to be perfect for creating this type of thing. Arduino allows components be wired up and run from a central code. We were able to use tutorials from the Internet to get each module up and running. Kayleigha was able to teach herself C++ coding, and figure out how to put the components together. She wrote a working code using online videos and experimentation. From the first line of code to a final working prototype, it took us about 8 weeks to get it up and running.
Kayleigha: I would watch video A to get part A working, then watch video B to get part B working, and then experiment for a few hours until part A and part B worked together. I was problem-solving in my sleep for weeks! Once it was up and running, Jay figured out how to take a project the size of a card table, with wires strewn everywhere, and condense it down into a small case. Then I sewed a Tribble body, and we were up and running.
The crazy part is that CBS licensed it. We were ready to be done with the project once we had our Tribble, but friends and family insisted that we see if we could make our Tribbles for real. They all wanted one. Somehow we ended up at dinner with the CBS licensing director, the director of Star Trek content, and our Tribble—and they loved it!
Jack: What will Trekkies be able to do with their Interactive Tribble?
Kayleigha: So, the Tribbles have three modes, which you can change with or without the app.
When you turn your Tribble on it defaults to At Ease mode. Every time you pick it up it vibrates like it is purring, and gives friendly trill. It responds to you. You can leave it sitting next to you and, even if you don’t touch it, every once in awhile it will let out a little trill and vibration like it’s a living Tribble. This will happen more frequently if you have been playing with it recently, and less frequently if it’s been awhile since you’ve petted the Tribble or picked it up.
Jay: Our Tribbles’ second mode is On Duty. In this mode, every time someone picks it up the Tribble determines whether the person is an ally or a Klingon. If it’s someone friendly to the Tribble race the Tribble purrs happily, but if whoever picked it up is a Klingon agent, the Tribble will scream at them like the Tribbles do in “The Trouble with Tribbles.” It determines randomly between friend and foe.
Kayleigha: You can also put it in Watchdog mode to have it guard your things. Anytime someone picks your Tribble up the Tribble screams at them as if they are a Klingon.
Jay: I like to put it on my keyboard at work. If one of my students tries to use my computer it will alert me by screaming like a Klingon is near.
Kayleigha: And then there is the Attack button. This one you do need the app for. In any mode you can make your Tribble scream at someone on command with the touch of a button in the app.
Jay: First day back from summer vacation I handed one of our manufacturer prototypes to my boss, and just as he was going in for the cuddle I used the app to set it off so the Tribble screamed at him like he was a Klingon. Good fun!
Kayleigha: The app is great because you don’t have to open your Tribble up to change the modes if you don’t want to. If you don’t have your phone, you can just turn your Tribble on and play with it. No problem.
Jack: How does the App work with the Tribble?
Jay: Our Tribbles pair with your the PADD (cell phone or tablet) via Bluetooth. There is a one-time pairing process to connect each Tribble to a new phone. Once paired, you just launch the app, and if your Tribble is on it will connect to the app. The home screen has buttons for each mode, and the all-important “Attack” button right there. Kayleigha did all the artwork for the app.
Kayleigha: It will be a free download for Apple and Android devices when the Tribbles ship out. You can also use the app to change the volume of your Tribble’s trilling, give your Tribble a name, and assign your Tribble to different starships and starbases from TOS and DS9. The app will also have a Contributors page, where we will list the names of customers who participated in the pre-sale as a thank you. You can opt in to this when you place your order.
Jack: Where can the Interactive Tribbles be purchased and when do you expect customers will receive their new furry friends?
Kayleigha: They are available right now for pre-sale on our website, ScienceDiv.com. There are going to be a limited number available, at least in this color. The pre-sale is helping us with the cost of placing our order with our manufacturer, so every pre-sale counts right now. This company is by fans and is being supported by fans. That’s why we feel that the Contributor’s page in the app is so important. We want to recognize that this is a community project.
Jay: We are also hand-signing and hand-serializing Tribble adoption certificates for pre-sale participants. The certificates validate each Tribble adoption in the eyes of the Federation. Fans with a certificate will be able to show that they were a part of this process. Their certificate will be numbered and unique. The adoption certificates will ship with the Tribbles as a thank you for helping us get up and running.
The current estimate from our manufacturer for delivery is early/spring 2020. Kayleigha was really picky about having the softest possible fur, so it all has to be custom made.
Kayleigha: We know that people might want them for the holidays, so we are letting everyone know to tell us in the comments section when they place an order if it is a Christmas or holiday gift. We are going to send out cards that can be given to recipients to let them know that their Tribble is growing in the lab and will be arriving shortly. We will also mail adoption certificates early for those who are receiving a Tribble as a gift. That gives them something tangible while we all wait excitedly for our Tribbles to arrive!
Jack: One last quick question… can you guarantee my Tribble will not multiply and take over my starship?!
Kayleigha: We can definitely guarantee that! You don’t even have to feed these guys.
Jay: All they require is 3 AA batteries to thrive. Your grain and your starship are safe!
Thank you to Kayleigha and Jay for discussing their Interactive Tribbles with me, we’re super excited to check these furry friends out and review one when they release later next year.
Feel like picking up an Interactive Tribble to join you on your adventures, then you are in luck as these furry friends are available for purchase on the Science Division website. You can keep up to date with Kayleigha and Jay’s Tribble life on their Twitter and Facebook.