RoboMe iPhone-Faced Robot
At Toy Fair 2013 in New York last week, toy robot maker Wowwee demonstrated a new robot expected to hit the shelves later this year. Called RoboMe, the new robot comes with a faceplate you can remove and replace with an iPhone or iPod Touch.
The iOS device then acts as the highly configurable face and voice of your robot, as well as enabling all sorts of new applications. For example, you can turn your RoboMe into a telepresence robot, showing your face as you drive it around remotely from another iPhone. The onboard iOS also enables speech recognition, face tracking, and other advanced features.
RoboMe uses two large drive wheels, plus a small caster in the back for balance. It has at least one other degree of freedom in its neck, which can pivot the head up and down. The arms are most likely unmotorized.
However, it’s not the mechanics, but the iPhone brains that really make this robot interesting. A modern mobile phone has as much computing power as a Cray supercomputer from a few decades ago. It also sports acceleration sensors, compass, gyroscope, GPS, camera, and microphone, plus a high-resolution display and a decent built-in speaker. Any other robot with that much gear would cost thousands of dollars, but using the mobile phone you already have means the robot can be cheap, while still doing a lot of very sophisticated tricks that make for a very fun, personal robot — one that talks to you in plain language, recognizes your face when you walk up, and so on. And when the default app starts to get old, you can write or download new apps that breathe whole new life into the product.
RoboMe isn’t the first robot to take this approach, of course. The Hovis Genie, a much more sophisticated robot, also uses a mobile device, though it places it in the chest rather than the head, which would limit your ability to look up and down in telepresence applications. Then there’s Romo, a cute little robot whose latest Kickstarter was successfully funded last November. In Japan we have the SmartPet robotic dog. You might even count the Shimi as a robot of sorts.
That’s why I expect this trend to continue. Hobbyists too should consider making more use of mobile phones (or non-phones, like the iPod Touch), and for the same reason; if you need more than a handful of those capabilities, it’s hard to put them together more cheaply than you could buy a mobile device, or reuse one you already have lying around.
Could a smartphone servo as the on-board brains for a Robo-One robot? The idea seems ludicrous at first — why risk your expensive mobile device in combat? But Robo-One style combat isn’t BattleBots; as long as your device was protected (for example, inside the clear plastic shell it comes in), I think it would be fine. You’d have the IMU for dynamic balance, plenty of processing power to control the servos, WiFi or bluetooth connection to your input device, and you could even experiment with things like vision to help the robot land its blows every time. And, like RoboMe, you could use the screen as a highly expressive face to give your robot a unique personality.
What do you think? Are smartphone-controlled robots the future? Weigh in with your thoughts below!