Romotive is one of the many hardware startups that have embraced Kickstarter and been a part of as well as enjoyed the platform’s overnight success. The first version of the robot was hand-assembled, or sent in disassembled kits and shipped from the team’s apartment in Las Vegas. Romo 1.0 was just thirty pieces, sported a transparent base, a protruding audio cord, and assembled like a puzzle. Still, it was an innovative product and raised $114,769, more than 3.5 times the pledge goal of $32,000. Having learned from its first Kickstarter project, the team is returning and setting out to win the support of Kickstarter again with a smarter and improved Romo, this time with a project goal of $100,000.
The new Romo is better in just about every aspect. It’s compatible with iPhone 4, 4s, as well as the fourth and fifth Gen iPod TouchThis means to drive Romo, you can use just about any iOS device, or even a computer supporting Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or any Mac computer running OS 10.6 or later (it deserves to be mentioned that the iPhone 5 won’t work with the gadget). While Romo 1.0 supported Android, Keller Rinaudo, CEO and co-founder of Romotive told me that the majority of the issues that the team faced with the first project were entirely from Android users. The team isn’t looking to make that same mistake this time around and strictly supports iOS devices for now. An Android-based Romo 2.0 is in the works, but it won’t be arriving for awhile.
Design-wise, you can’t help but notice Romo’s new, much easier-on-the-eyes You can plug in your iOS device into the 30-pin dock, and unlike its previous version, all you have to do to install the Romotive app is to physically connect your phone to Romo, and then the app will automatically download.
Under the hood, the latest Romo has been rebuilt from scratch. The circuit board is more complex , enabling your phone to download the Romotive app automatically. And the app itself has a new, robust suite of features that enables remote two-way video feeds, facial recognition, and autonomous navigation.
Romotive is looking to “build the world’s first affordable personal robots,” says Rinaudo, but the team also wants to foster an ecosystem where developers unfamiliar with robotics can use Romotive’s open SDK to create new functions – for instance, taking a photograph using Romo and uploading that it to a social network — based on the foundation Romotive has created.
This platform focus will also include the ability for Romo owners to personalize their robot with custom features. For example, non-developers will be able to select their robot’s personality through its graphical programming interface, while programmers can hack together new apps or features using Romo’s SDK. The latest version is “ten times better” Rinaudo assures me. For instance, Rinaudo told us the new iteration of Romo has the ability to navigate to its own charging station.
Given all the new features, the new Romo will cost double that of the first generation device. It’ll cost $150 to back the project, while Romo 1.0 was half that at$75, but the team undervalued the cost of manufacturing the parts and ended up with a net loss. Luckily Romotive was funded shortly thereafter by seed investors.
In addition to the Romo 2.0, Romotive is also announcing a $5 million round of Series A funding. Backing the company are esteemed tech investors including Sequoia Capital, Crunchfund, SV Angel, and Felicis Ventures. Neimen Marcus will also be adding Romotive to its holiday catalog for those who don’t want to take a gamble on Kickstarter.
Given all this, you might wonder why Romotive has decided to return to Kickstarter. Rinuado’s reasoning is simple:It’s the Kickstarter community of creatives, hackers, hardware, and robot enthusiasts that you can’t find anywhere else. These are the types of people, Rinuado explains, that Romotive wants to give first access to.
In fact, the latest Romo is already coming off the assembly lines in China and the team is ready to ship the product. Between 4,000 and 8,000 are being manufactured per week to meet the demands of Kickstarter backers, large (unannounced retailers), and those individuals purchasing multiple Romo robots from Romotive.com. If you’re planning on backing the project, Rinuado told us exclusively, you’ll receive a Romo before the January 2012 ship date that the team had listed on its Kickstarter page, soyou’ll likely have a Romo in your hands by December.