There is a new robot in town. The Segway Loomo is a personal mobile robot that is controlled by a smartphone.
Segway's Adam Bao, from Beijing, China, talked to TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox about this robot-you-can-ride.
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Teena Maddox: What is the Loomo and what does it do?
Adam Bao: The Segway Loomo is a mini transporter which can be ridden, and it's also a mobile robot sidekick. Like the now familiar Segway, you can ride the Loomo, whether it's a joy ride, a jaunt to the park or a quick spin around the neighborhood. Disembark, and it becomes your robot.
In general, robots have AI functions like computer vision, voice recognition, et cetera. The Loomo computer is vision focused. It detects objects, recognizes space and can track. Once you disembark, you can program it to track and follow you around.
Even though the Loomo is only 42 pounds, you don't want to lug it around when you opt to walk. When you walk hands free or with a companion, it's much easier to have the Loomo follow you. It can also capture video. You can have fun with it.
Teena Maddox: How can you control the Loomo?
Adam Bao: Many different ways—control it through touch screen, or sensors on its head or voice. Use it with a smartphone app or through basic gestures. It's key-command focused. Say, "Loomo transform" and it will go from mobile transport to robot and back again.
Say, "Okay robot," and it starts listening to you. Then say, "Let's go," and it'll look at you, find you in a room, come up to you, spin around and turn into a transporter. So you can just ride it off into the sunset.
Avatar is a popular feature; it controls the robot with your smartphone, like a remote control. You can move the robot or just its head around. You can do text-to-speech. Type in what you want the robot to say and it responds in a robot voice. For example if I were here with you and Jason, and say Jason's hiding behind a rock —you can control the robot discreetly, have it go up to Jason and ask, "Jason why are you hiding there? What's going on with you?"
There's a camera built into the robot's head, which you can see on your smartphone, and watch where it goes.
Teena Maddox: What do people say when they see you out with the Loomo?
Adam Bao: It's a conversation starter, since you don't really see many robots out on the streets. Most robots are either small or mimic the look of humans. Ours differ, not only from the reasons I've already mentioned, but because it can be a companion while you're out. And be prepared to attract a lot of attention. You'll get some pretty big crowds. They'll be asking, "Hey what is this thing? I've never seen this before. How does this follow you?" I get asked that a lot.
It's also likable because it doesn't try to replicate a human, it's not sinister, it's cute. People say it's like a little pet, like a little dog, as it kind of rocks, and the expression on its face. It's very lovable, and part of the overall appeal.
Teena Maddox: Can it be a substitute for a pet?
Adam Bao: We didn't design Loomo with that intention. It's just feedback we've gotten. Developers have tried to give robots emotion, but for us, looking ahead, we are interested in more personality, have it be more interactive and fun. These may be features making it pet-like, but we weren't trying to make it into a pet.
Teena Maddox: What is the SDK that it comes with?
Adam Bao: Loomo comes with a free SDK, built on Android. It leverages the core mobility capability, and also the AI, which is focused on vision. You can leverage the robot platform that we have, the hardware, and the SDK allows you to control the robot. You can have it do everything that I mentioned and more. There's also a hardware extension bay at the very back, to attach hardware components. It could be an arm, it could be something else, it could be an entire delivery box to pull behind a robot, something that we're actually doing with a partner.
The SDK is something most people are comfortable and familiar using because it's Android based. There are a lot of Android developers. With our SDK you can sign up through our website to access more materials and to better understand how to use it. We're pretty excited to see what people come up with, either new features they build by themselves, or, if we find a number of meaningful and interesting ideas, we might be open to working with them, that would be really, really cool.
Teena Maddox: Can you tell me about the ongoing Indiegogo campaign?
Adam Bao: We're focused on addressing early adopters and innovators, and that's why we chose a platform like Indiegogo. The robot's very cool, a good product and it's ready. It's undergoing mass production right now—we've set up all those capabilities. But we definitely want to work with a community, we want to build a community and get people engaged, get them excited to buy a robot, and give us feedback, because based on previous feedback, we know there are a lot more cool things we can build.
We envision Loomo not just as a hardware product, but a hardware/software platform.
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Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.