LAS VEGAS -- There's a little fellow called Romo who roams around The Ogden residential complex in downtown Las Vegas and, no, he's not named after the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
What he is, though, is a clever smart phone-driven robot that weighs less than a pound and is less than five inches long and four inches wide. Don't let that fool you. This gadget, which moves on oblong tread that makes it look like a miniature tank, can dance to music and turn 360 degrees on a dime. There's more.
A smart phone can be programmed to operate Romo such that it can provide the human operator with a view inside a home, even if the user is thousands of miles away. That's right. An operator armed with another smart phone, tablet or laptop in Boston can maneuver Romo in Las Vegas. When used as a toy Romo can give a grandparent the ability to play with a grandchild in another state or even in another country.
The product, which retails for $149, is available through Romotive.com, a downtown tech startup that has sold 2,000 units since October. The 13-member team, some of whom grew up together in Phoenix, operates out of three Ogden residences at the corner of North Las Vegas Boulevard and East Ogden Avenue. One residence is used for manufacturing, a second one for software development and the third for business administration.
"A lot of people told us they would never put a phone on a robot because it would be too expensive," said Harvard-educated Romotive co-found and CEO Keller Rinaudo.
But Romotive pressed ahead with Romo and the tech world quickly took notice. The company already has $1.5 million in financial backing from the likes of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and Stanford University and has potential suitors, such as game maker Mattel, beginning to make inquiries.
"Right now, we're very well funded," Rinaudo said today. "We're not looking for financing."
Keller Rinaudo of Romotive meeting with his team in their offices at The Ogden.
That peace of mind gives Rinaudo and the rest of the team the freedom to grow the company as they see fit, and there are many paths open to them. They've already ventured into the field of education by meeting with Clark County School District students to discuss the advantages of robotics and to give them a chance to meet Romo.
"It's also a clever way to interact with animals," Rinaudo said of Romo's ability to play with cats and dogs.
Aided with a 3.7-volt battery, Romo can last about eight hours after being charged. After being charged for three hours or so, it is ready for use again. The clear plastic body is the most popular Romo model but for the color conscious, one can also order the robot in grey, light blue, hot pink, dark red, green and neon green.
Romo, which is made of nearly 30 parts, is also easy to piece together. A group of 9-year-olds, gathering at Zappos, recently assembled the robot in 26 minutes without instructions.
"We've asked students questions about robots and what they should be able to do," said Jen McCabe, who wears marketing and operations hats for the company. "Kids tend to think they should be treated as people."
As the technology for Romo advances -- it is already in its second generation despite being only six months old -- Rinaudo and his cohorts hope to give the robot more personality and functions. And they also want to continue to play in what he says is the wide gulf between extremely cheap and simplistic robots and far more expensive competitors.
"Our goal is to make robots that are cheap enough for people to buy and easy enough for people to use," Rinaudo said. "We also want to build a robot powerful enough to be compelling."
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