My favorite robot at CES this year has legs, but my second favorite robot is designed to minimize my own leg usage. Segway’s Loomo bot has a straightforward value proposition: you ride it like a hoverboard to the store, and then you hop off, load it up with cargo, and have it follow you home.
After watching 90Fun’s new Segway-inspired robotic suitcase fall repeatedly, I was a little worried about stepping onto Loomo, but I shouldn’t have been. Rideables are Segway’s bread and butter, and while I’ve never actually been on a mall cop-style Segway, I found Loomo vastly easier than any hoverboard I’ve attempted. Like a hoverboard, you lean forward to go fast, lean back to slow down, but unlike a hoverboard, you turn with your knees instead of elaborate foot work. I was comfortable within a couple minutes of riding it, and after that it was almost second nature.
Of course, the whole point of Loomo is what happens when you step off. There’s a button on top to transform Loomo from a rideable to a friendly robot. You can also say, “Loomo, transform,” or pull out the mobile app. Loomo’s head swivels around and an emotive circle pops up on the screen. Loomo is designed to look for faces and bodies to track. Left to its own devices, it will explore like a pet. At Segway’s booth, a few Loomos were communing with each other, almost like friends. Of course, this was all just emergent behavior from the body tracking and following features of Loomo, but combined with the bot’s smooth movement it really looked like a bunch of cool robot buddies chilling.
When we tried to put my backpack on Loomo, we ran into a problem: if you put the backpack on Loomo’s “back” (like in Segway’s own promotional video), it pulls Loomo backward and acts as a brake. So instead we just stashed the backpack on one side, which seemed totally fine.
Then I just said, “Loomo, follow me,” and Loomo began to chase me around the track with about an 80 percent success rate. If it got distracted, I had to walk back up to Loomo to get its “attention.” It’s easy to blame its failures on the crowded convention hall, but I don’t know if I’d want to take Loomo to a mall or anywhere else it can easily be distracted by other bodies. Hopefully Segway will improve its smarts beyond the current algorithm, which seems to be along the lines of, “There’s a body, I’ll follow that body.”
I also got to play with the Loomo app, which has an “avatar” function to use the robot as a sort of telepresence robot you can remote control. You can also use the app to have Loomo speak phrases you type in, take photos and videos, and follow people.
We still don’t know the price, or an exact release date, but Segway-Ninebot told us that Loomo should be priced somewhere around other last mile rideables — which probably puts Loomo in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.