This transforming Segway is the closest thing to having a real-life R2-D2

By | March 6, 2018

The Loomo isn’t quite R2-D2, but it might just be the next best thing to a real-life droid.

Built by Segway Robotics, a division of Segway-Ninebot, the Loomo is what happens when you fuse a miniPro self-balancing electric scooter (or as I like to call it a knee-controlled hoverboard) with AI so that it can essentially see and hear you almost like a pet.

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At the most basic level, the Loomo is still a personal transporter. It’s controlled exactly the same way as a miniPro — steering is done with your inner knees — and has a top speed of 11 miles per hour and up to a 22 mile range on a single charge.
I rode it around in a small-sized showroom and it’s every bit as smooth as the miniPro. The 11-inch wheels are nice and thick and can easily ride up curbs and along sidewalks with issues.

Say "Loomo, transform" and the personal transporter changes into a personal robot.

Say “Loomo, transform” and the personal transporter changes into a personal robot.

But that’s not what has me so excited about the Loomo. With a “Loomo, transform” voice command, the middle compartment flips around and springs to life to reveal a small 4.3-inch touchscreen with 800 x 480 resolution.
And just like that the Loomo morphs from being your personal transporter designed into a friendly robot capable of following you around using its sophisticated Intel RealSense depth and motion-sensing camera technology. The same voice command also transforms it back from robot mode to transporter.
Loomo is also controllable with a smartphone app, but that’s nowhere near as fun as having it scoot around on its own.

These 11-inch wheels can ride over any crusty city streets.

These 11-inch wheels can ride over any crusty city streets.

If you stop and think about the state of personal robotics, one thing becomes fairly obvious: They don’t really exist outside and on the streets. Most personal robots, like the awful Jibo, are designed for indoor use, primarily at home.
It’s challenging to create a robot for the streets that pedestrians will welcome, Adam Bao, a U.S. spokesperson for the Loomo told me during a briefing.
How do you make a robot that people won’t be afraid of that can also survive a beating in the weather? This is the question that Segway-Ninebot sought to answer as it explored ways to combine AI with personal mobility.

Loomo has 5 mics and an Intel RealSense camera to recognize voices and faces.

Loomo has 5 mics and an Intel RealSense camera to recognize voices and faces.

Loomo works because it’s a transporter when you need to get around from Point A to B and a personal robot second. It’s only the latter when you summon it to transform into one. And there are various reasons why might want a robot with you outside.
Bao presented me with several practical scenarios. For example, maybe you don’t want to ride the Loomo or carry the 42-pound clunker home when it’s running low on power. In such a situation, the Loomo could simply follow you home.
Or maybe you’re shopping at the grocery store and have a few bags too many. No problem — just place two of them on the Loomo’s foot pads and let it literally carry them home for you.

Don't have a real Instagram husband? Loomo's got you covered.

Don’t have a real Instagram husband? Loomo’s got you covered.

Are you an aspiring vlogger? Loomo could record you using its 1080p camera and snap selfies for you to post to Instagram.
There’s really no limit to what Segway-Ninebot thinks is possible with the Loomo. Right now, the door’s wide open for developers to come up with whatever tickles their fancy.
With an Android-based SDK, developing new voice, gesture, or touch controls (via the touchscreen or the touchpad on the side of the screen) for Loomo shouldn’t be difficult, says Bao.
Despite being a prototype, I liked what I saw in the Loomo. It’s not trying to be R2-D2 and yet the limited few things it does are quite useful and its personality is approachable.
The Loomo’s currently up for pre-order on Indiegogo for a somewhat hefty $1,299. I’m no psychic so I can’t say if the streets of the future will be filled with Loomos trailing behind everyone carrying their groceries, but wouldn’t that be a sight to behold?

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