With so many personal robots popping up on crowdfunding sites today, it's refreshing to see one as simple and straightforward as Roboming Fellow, a robot assistant that is being launched with an Indiegogo campaign. This little robot's minimalist design is simultaneously its greatest strength and an obvious weakness.
Roboming Fellow is marketed as a "friendly companion" that can communicate with users via emotional responses, but in reality, it doesn't have a face or limbs, so gestures are minimal. Instead of nodding its head and smiling, it can only move a camera lens and flash a small light. Then again, uncomplicated can be a positive attribute, because it means the robot should be easy to operate and less likely to break.
Rather than being a perfect companion, this robot is more like a consistently obedient assistant. It recognizes its master's voice and can execute commands such as "follow me" or "go to the kitchen." It can also carry small objects, so Roboming Fellow could be used as the campaign video suggests, to deliver things to a loved one in the next room. A more practical scenario would be in an office setting, where the robot could deliver paperwork to one department, wait for a certain person to sign it, and then return the signed documents to wherever they belong.
The first time it visits a new location, Roboming Fellow will scan the layout and create a map, which it can then use to self-navigate. It can also find its way around a home using LIDAR -- its laser-based detection system. As it moves around on its tracks, the built-in collision avoidance system will ensure that the robot doesn't run over anything that gets in its way.
It is equipped with an HD camera that is capable of taking a continuous live video stream that a user can monitor with the companion app. This feature could be used for security purposes, which could be a little creepy on an everyday basis, but would be a helpful way to check on your pets or home while you are at work or out of town. (And yes, it can also take selfies.) The robot can also be used to entertain pets by zooming around with its laser.
It won't vacuum your floors, fold your laundry, or shovel your snow, but the Roboming Fellow is a slick robotic assistant, and the early bird price tag is just $199. So far, backers have gotten Roboming Fellow one third of the way to a $50,000 goal. If all goes according to plan, the first units will ship in March 2017.