Romo: The Cute, Cheap, and Interactive Smart-Phone Robot

Robot All The Things!

I know, I know, this is post #2 on robots this week alone. But I can't help it. Monday, I just had to tell you about the robots being used for Autism Therapy. And today, out comes these social robots that work with smartphones. And there's a TED talk. And it's totally adorable tech.

Romo from Romotive
So, c'mon.

This is Romo, an interactive robot that doesn't just run using your smartphone, it actually uses your smartphone (or iPod Touch)! It's reactive, interactive and totally approachable. You just pop your phone into the base and it starts interacting with you. In addition, you can control it from a tablet: making it drive around, take video or photos, and even control it collaboratively with another person offsite via the Interwebs.

The interactivity is an interesting feature. Keller Rinaudo, the developer speaking about it at TED (see video below), cited the example of Romo enabling a game of hide and seek between a young girl and her grandma who lives far away. I love that idea. We Skype with the Dude's grandma but it's not a normal everyday thing in our lives, mostly because her computer is in the basement of her house so we need to schedule times to call. But she recently got a tablet, so I could see her and the Dude calling each other more frequently. And finding an activity or a game to do together would make it even more likely for them to have online dates. Which is where something like Romo is a great idea.

I think if our Robosapien had been able to connect online and be controlled remotely by Grandma, they could have had a lot of fun making him dance together. But where something like Robosapien has dozens of buttons that can be combined to control him in various ways, the advantage of Romo is that its simple interface is meant to be usable without any training. Which is perfect for bridging generation gaps, right?

Right now, Romo only works with iThings so it still needs some work before we'd ever be able to use it in this house. But considering that it was founded on KickStarter and is still in development (see the second video below for details on its evolution), I'm sure they'll catch up and go Android eventually :) For now, Romo is way cheaper than other robots, and since it works on wifi, it could be perfect for putting into offices and classrooms. Wouldn't it be more fun to work remotely if you could actually control a robot in the boardroom during a conference call and see who's currently talking? Without having to equip the office and your home with videoconferencing equipment?

And in schools: If they could get donations of old iThings (to have backups when one inevitably breaks) they could then cheaply chat and interact with other classes around the world! Oh sure, they could try Skyping (in fact there are entire directories in which teachers can find sister schools to chat with) but the kids are just talking. The fastest way to break a cultural or language barrier is to make them collaborate on something.

Love! Here's the TED Talk, and then check out the second video to see him in action and find out about the next generation of Romo.

FYI: Join me Friday, April 12th at the Ottawa Public Library Main Branch Auditorium for a FREE lunchtime session: "Hacking is a mindset, not a skillset." For more info and to RSVP, check out the event details.

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