Don’t call it a toy.
Well, OK, call it a toy if you want—but the new Romo is more than just that. Remember, personal computers were once called toys, too.
Around this time last year, the three Romotive founders were working together in a downtown Las Vegas apartment, feverishly assembling the yet-to-be-released first-generation Romos by hand, hoping to get them shipped before Christmas. They pulled it off and added to the sense that diversification was really beginning to take root downtown (see our Feb. 2 cover story, “Robots on Fremont Street,” at VegasSeven.com/Romo). Now, after only one year, and $5 million in venture capital funding, Romotive has 14 employees, including veterans of some of the best robotics companies in the world. The new team is again rushing to get the newest Romo shipped before Christmas, but this time they’re finalizing arrangements with a factory in China that has retooled a custom assembly line to manufacture and ship thousands of Romos each week.
Romo at first just looks like a friendly robot base for an iPhone or iPod Touch. Kids immediately fall in love with him and start treating him like a pet. (Yes, Romotive has confirmed that the current Romo is male. A female Romo will be introduced in the next generation.) But don’t let Romo’s deceptively simple hardware fool you. Through its control software, this Romo can do simultaneous video conferencing and remote control from anywhere in the world. Romotive calls this “family presence” (computer geeks would call it “telepresence”), and it opens up a world of possibilities: Romos can now go on security patrols, enable homebuyers to tour houses remotely, allow distant grandparents to play with their grandkids from anywhere in the world, or even let city dwellers chase their dog around the apartment during lunch break … without leaving work.
Future enhancements will allow Romo to recognize objects and people, and to map out environments and navigate them autonomously. Romotive is also opening its software to enable other developers to create custom applications to control the robot. And though the Romotive team won’t talk about it, it seems likely that future generations will allow for hardware accessories as well.
Romo can be ordered online now with a Kickstarter donation and will be in major retail stores early next year. Romotive has already rebuffed at least one toy manufacturer interested in buying them. As Chief Operations Bot Jen McCabe said, “Being bought by Hasbro would be a death sentence for us right now.” Instead, Romotive is looking toward the future, and it involves much more than just being a toy.