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Meet Romo, the robotic smartphone

I guess I’m getting tired of reading about nebulous stuff happening in the cloud, so I’m spending a bit more time checking out what the hardware hackers are up to, simply because you actually get to see something tangible in action. Today, I discovered Romo — the smartphone robot.

The Romo is a robotic hardware base that interfaces directly with any smartphone that runs either iOS or Android. In order to use it, you plug your phone into the robotic base, and then use the RomoRemote software to connect to it either from another smartphone, or from a computer. Using the RomoRemote software, you are able to access a video feed provided from your Romo Robot’s perspective, courtesy of the camera on the smartphone driving the Romo, and obviously you are able to control where your Romo goes using some simple control buttons.

What really appeals to me about this project is that its developers have not only provided a simple “drag and drop” programming module, that allows novice programmers to create their own automated behaviours for the Romo, but they’re also releasing a full-scale SDK that will allow more advanced programmers to build more complex applications around the device.

That’s pretty exciting because we’re likely to see a whole lot of interesting things being developed for the Romo, including face or object tracking, and voice-recognition and processing. To make things even more interesting, the developers are encouraging hardware hackers to take the Romo apart and to find other new configurations that could make the Romo perform some completely different functions.

So, in order to fund the development of the Romo product, its developers have asked for pledged donations. If you’re willing to pledge US$78 or more, they will send you a fully assembled Romo robot, ready to use. If you’re keen to play around with the Romo a little bit more, you can contact them and ask them to send you the disassembled parts and the instructions to build it, and you can make the Romo for yourself.

Of course, there are limitations to how you might use this product in the real world. To begin with, you certainly don’t want your smartphone wandering off to somewhere that it can be easily pilfered. And of course, losing your phone and gaining a robot may be fun for all of a couple of days, but in the end, you are probably going to want your phone with you most of the time, and your poor old Romo base is going to be sitting around waiting for a brain. I’m really excited by projects like this, because they have real potential.

Certainly with things like the Raspberry Pi boards almost complete and ready to go to market, it may be possible to create your own device to power the Romo, for a relatively small cost and with a fairly big payoff.

Founder of Raspberry Pi, Eben Upton, expressed a concern that there is a diminishing number of enthusiasts who are actively involved in programming their own hardware, and this was his motivation to create cheap programmable circuitry to encourage renewed interest in hardware hacking.

While his efforts to provide that hardware are only to be commended, I am noticing that there is actually a large community of active hobbyists who are finally starting to show off their talents, and they’ve been happy to make do with whatever they can get their hands on. I’m really optimistic that this community is going to go from strength to strength, largely because they’re always willing to share their technology.

Here’s a video of Romo in action:

Robots & Love from Romotive on Vimeo.

Author | Rowan Puttergill: Columnist

Rowan Puttergill: Columnist
Rowan Puttergill is a technology evangelist and software engineer with a long career working in enterprise environments. He brings with him the experience of being the Technical Editor at SA Computer magazine, and a career history as a technical author. He is a huge advocate of open-source technologies, and... More