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.
Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

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.
Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

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.
Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

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.
Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

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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