Romibo is a social robot. A small group of children sitting on the classroom floor are huddled around the cuddly-looking robot playing I-Spy. Romibo is able to simulate human facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice as it talks and roams around the room spying objects.
Beauty and brains
Called a “configurable companion,” Origami Robotics explains that Romibo’s skills are controlled by an iPhone or iPad app, so it can speak whatever is typed onto the screen or spoken through Siri commands. With a camera hidden behind the robot’s eyes, plus an audio visual feed, the device is able to engage and transmit interactions to the “pilot.”
Romibo makes friends
The robot is drawing out remarkable interaction from some children with special needs. Currently being rolled out on a test basis at a price point around $1,000, the hand-built robots are working well as an aid for developing socialization skills, especially with autistic children. As recently noted by VentureBeat, findings from research teams at the University of Denver and Vanderbilt University indicate that autistic children are often more comfortable looking at robots or animated characters than at people.
Futuristic Fluff Ball
Introduced by Origami Robotics at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2014, Romibo was the star of “Robots On the Runway.” Looking something like a next generation Furby, Romibo’s plastic gum-ball shaped head with big synthetic eyes and flexible neck are built on wheels. A distinct lack of other facial features means that it presents in an environment that is less intimidating and overwhelming than human face-to-face interaction. Romibo’s voice, eyes and movements can be adjusted and its fuzzy covering comes in different colors, allowing for easy customization without further expense or training.
A DIY Solution
Based in Berkeley, California, CEO and Design Researcher Aubrey Shick explains, “Our task is to make the benefits of robot therapy available to the general public … since existing prototype robots are too expensive. We have developed a low-cost robot prototype kit designed for not only education and fun, but also social therapy research.” Origami Robotics and the Quality of Life Technology Center at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University created Romibo using Arduino software, an open-source interactive platform. Its DIY aspect makes Romibo more accessible and affordable to families, educators and therapists. Commenting on the launch, Connecticut parent of teenage boys and Sirius XM presenter Kristine Stone says, “I wish Romibo was around when Russ was little. It’s true, he’s more comfortable with a screen than a real person.”
Why Viral Matters
Until now, prototypes have been too expensive for use by the general public. Romibo’s fan base is growing as software developers explore applications using feedback from the community. “We need your help to get the word out,” the Romibo Facebook page informs. ” As a low-cost, grassroots-driven alternative, Romibo can create social engagement, promote emotional response and motivate positive behavior change, especially in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD,” says Shick. In this YouTube video, see how Romibo is making friends and earning admirers at a pre-school. This is a robot to watch.