Richard Schmising – Product Manager at KOSMOS – discusses the creation of Gecko Run

Richard Schmising, THAMES & COSMOS,

You’re a product manager at KOSMOS Germany, Richard. On what kind of things do you work?
I develop new products for our scientific toys line and oversee their lifetime circle. However, we’re closely connected to our colleagues at Thames and Kosmos and have many shared products in our program lists. My main focuses are electronic and physical toys. I’ve been working on new products for our electronic system and, each year, develop a fantastic and fantastic-looking advent calendar. I know this sounds kind of immodest! But over the last couple of years, my main focus was Gecko Run.

And Gecko Run is INCREDIBLE… I love it. For those that haven’t seen it, what’s the elevator pitch?
Thank you! Gecko Run is a novel marble run. The principle of the system is that all its elements are attached to vertical surfaces. These nano adhesive pads we use for this stick to all smooth surfaces: glass, tiles, smooth metal, wood and plastic. They can be repositioned hundreds of times and leave no residues due to their mechanical adhering technique.

Right. So as long as the surface is upright and vertical, those nanopads will stick?
Exactly. This setup gives customers absolute freedom when setting up the system, sparks creativity and teaches about scientific laws like no other system on the market. Since it doesn’t need any sustaining structure – unlike almost all other systems – it has the best marble run length against investment costs ratio, making it material efficient, sustainable, affordable and sleek.

Which is a lovely logical summary! In your opinion, though, what makes this such an exciting product?
I’ve never seen a toy with comparable creative possibilities and scientific value that’s also as visually appealing as Gecko Run! That’s especially true when built on white surfaces…

Richard Schmising, THAMES & COSMOS,

It does look stunning; I’ll be sure to put on some images here…
Thank you! My son – who is nine years old and had a great impact on the development – says I should remember to tell people about his top USP… Which is that the system makes no mess where it’s set up. On the contrary, it actually looks good. This makes, according to him, an important positive impact on the peace in the family.

Strewth! Is he looking to work in sales?! Ha! I must say, I’m absolutely fascinated by the mechanism that allows this to stick to flat services…
I know, isn’t it amazing?!

It really is! I can’t get over it… What’s happening there, Richard? What’s the technology?
The adhesive pads that are exclusively produced for this product are laced with microscopically small suction cups that are invisible to the eye. But, in principle, they work the same way as regular suction cups and adhere to surfaces through negative pressure. That’s why our nano adhesive pads stick to the same surfaces a suction cup would.

So it’s like thousands of microscopic sink plungers?

I love it! And in terms of how this product got to market, what was the journey?
The original idea of Gecko Run goes back to pandemic times, when lockdown penned my family into our small Munich apartment. We were getting on each other’s nerves, to be frank, and one day I stumbled over a floor-based marble run system in my son’s room. My son was mad I destroyed his build!

Richard Schmising, THAMES & COSMOS,

Oh! You LITERALLY stumbled over it? You knocked it down?
I did! And I was mad about the chaos in his room, and he yelled at me that it wasn’t his fault because he couldn’t hang it on the wall. That’s where the first idea came from – so credit and a shout out to my son Ilija! The biggest challenge of the development came right at the start: finding a material that could make this idea possible; something that has good adhering performance on many surfaces, but that you can position and reposition many times and that leaves no residue on any surface.

Right… Because this isn’t like a sticky pad; it adheres but it doesn’t stick as such…
Right. And that’s where the technical developer Deryl Tjahja came into play. He plays chess in a club and one day brought a chess board that could be attached to smooth surfaces for demonstration purposes. That’s when we knew the idea could work; that there are materials that fulfil the demand. We then tested many materials, until we found the one we’re using now.

What were some of the other challenges you faced?
There’ve been several others on the road to market! Finding the right material and shape for the bendable tracks, for example. It turned out that a Green PE made of sugar cane had the perfect properties… Fortunately, we were working with a very experienced toy designer, Manuel Aydt. Manuel helped us keep the design iterations in moderation. Another challenge was to find a producer for the marble run.

At this point, we were hit by skyrocketing freight rates and disrupted supply chains… But we wanted to partner up with a producer that could guarantee us a great product availability and the highest level of social and environmental responsibility. That’s why we focused our search on European producers. In the German-based company Columbus, we found a partner that could meet all these criteria and the high-production standards we needed…

Richard Schmising, THAMES & COSMOS,

That was with Columbus, did you say?
Yes. By the way, we proved that it’s possible to produce a plastic-based toy at a very compatible price in Germany. And not just that: with Columbus, we can deliver a product that has a high share of bio-based plastic and is produced to around three quarters with energy produced on site by solar cells. Currently, we’re working on a replacement of the conventional ABS we have to use for some parts of Gecko Run.

Impressive… And speaking of parts, I must say – getting into the weeds – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hyperbolic funnel that performs so well on this scale. How long did it take to come up with the right mix of components for the Starter Set?
Thank you very much for the compliment! I’m happy to pass it to the designer. Once we found the right material to make the marble run hang, and once we found the right form and material for the bendable tracks, the rest fell into place pretty easily. But as I say, that’s due to the experienced development team I worked with…

In the first round, we developed all the parts you’ll find in the Starter Set, and the Trampoline, the Loop, the Snake and the Twister. The decision as to which tricks to put in the Starter Set and which to market as separate extensions fell into place rather easily.

So how expansive IS Gecko Run?
Gecko Run is a system that’s rather easy to expand. We’re currently working on expansions for our 2025 list – and there’s absolutely no indication of us running out of ideas. Along with seven steel balls and 40 nano adhesive pads, the Starter Set itself contains 27 adapters, 12 lanes, two levers, four track turns, three track bridges, a switch, and one of the hyperbolic funnels you’re so taken with!

There’s also a detailed manual that explains how each component is used and includes sample setups and challenges for kids to try. Additionally, the manual introduces scientific and mathematical ideas like the chaos theory and the butterfly effect, and how they relate to your Gecko Run, as well as providing a brief overview of nanoscopic technology.

Richard Schmising, THAMES & COSMOS,

Excellent! And what expansions are already available?
In early 2024, Thames & Kosmos launched the Starter Set and the first four expansions: the Trampoline – which is my personal favourite – the Loop, the Snake and the Twister. Later this summer, they´ll release a Deluxe Starter Set which includes all components from the original Starter Set, the Loop and Trampoline Expansion Packs, as well as a bonus funnel and lever. In Germany, we launched three further expansions in February.

Wow! You’re really gone all in on this! What were the February launches?
There’s the Wheels, the Speed-Kick, and Flex Corner. Flex Corner lets you lead the run around corners of any angle, to bridge bigger obstacles and to span the run from one playing surface to another. The Speed-Kick gives the marble an extra kick that allows it to run uphill and also works as a track blockade. And last but not least the Wheels… That works like mill wheels on the run.

Brilliant! What’s your background, Richard? How did you come to doing what you do?
I studied history and politics – which really has nothing to do with the work I do today! After graduating, I worked for around 10 years as a fiction and non-fiction book editor. At some point, I was unhappy with my profession and felt I wanted to work more creative and in bigger teams. A small German producer of scientific toys gave me the chance to do something new as a product manager. That led the path to my current position as product manager at KOSMOS Germany.

Not a straight path by any means! Interesting. We need to wrap this up, Richard, but thank you for making time… I absolutely love the product and can see the heart and thought that’s gone into it. Let’s wrap up with one last question… What’s the most interesting object in your office or on your desk?
The most interesting item on my desk is a prototype for a new trick of the marble run that multiplies the creative possibilities of the system! That should launch in Germany 2025.

Well, I won’t ask for a photo of that under the circumstances! Thank you, Richard.

To stay in the loop with the latest news, interviews and features from the world of toy and game design, sign up to our weekly newsletter here

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter
Back to top arro

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Mojo updates & news.