New Startup Romotive Turns Your Smartphone Into A Robot (video)

The open source platform allows users to come up with their own apps, such as the devious “Spy Robot App.”

How awesome is Romo the Smartphone Robot? Without knowing anything about it, you simply have to look at the robot’s Kickstarter page. The pledge goal was $32,000. The robot has raised $114,796.

I’d say these guys are on to something.

The guys – Peter Seid and Phu Nguyen – have turned your smartphone into a robot. They’ve built a robotics platform that uses a smartphone for a brain to control a mobile, two-track base. Just attach your smartphone to the base, plug a cord into the earphone jack, download the apps, and using another smartphone, iPad, or computer to control it – you’ve got a robot! The guys are only just getting started, but already they’ve made a “Spy Robot” app that allows you to drive Romo around while seeing the world through the smartphone camera. It can track objects with a color tracking app. Another app turns Romo into a doodler. Just make your drawing on the smartphone touchscreen and Romo follows the pattern, driving around and turning your pixel drawing into a real one. You can also have a conversation with Romo, which makes sense since it has a phone for a head.

Seid and Nguyen’s genius was to recognize that you don’t have to build a robot from the ground up. With their self-admitted nerdyness, the two longed to create a functional robot but without the millions of dollars it takes to create the beast that is Honda’s Asimo, they recognized that supercomputer robotic brains had already been built that are cheap and are everywhere. They built Romo and founded the company Romotive to build more.

The beauty of having a smartphone for a brain is that it is limited only by its apps. Seid and Nguyen, and the growing number of Romo users, are hard at work coming up with new applications, which means the sky’s the limit. They encourage hackers to take Romo apart, to find new ways to interface the smartphone and hardware. And they’re working on an SDK of their own that will run on iOS and Android to make programming easier and more flexible. A forum on their website provides a place where hackers can share their innovations with others. Given the obvious enthusiasm, I see their apps library growing quickly, becoming the smartphone equivalent to the Robot Operating System applications library for robots. Yet another example of the power of open source.

Just $78 gets you a Romo (smartphone not included, duh). An iPod Touch can also be used with the platform. Controls are sent over Wi-Fi, so you can potentially play with Romo over half a world away.

Romo isn’t the first robot to use a smartphone for a brain. iRobot’s AVA turns smartphones, tablets or notebooks into mobile robots. With laser range finders and accelerometers and other major league hardware, AVA’s obviously the superior telepresence robot. But Romo’s our robot, the one we can actually get our hands on and program. Smartphones were already awesome, but Romo takes them to a whole new level. And now that Romotive has got some serious startup funds, the mobile robot could very soon leave your brand new 4S in the dust.

[image credits: Kickstarter]
images: Romo
video: Romo

Peter Murray
Peter Murray
Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.
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