Robots may be the eventual downfall of the human race, but for now, most are either cute or useful. One that exists in both categories has spent the last week lurking quietly in a darkened corner of my house, watching my every move. Did I mention I'm happy about this?
The robot in question is the Rovio, which made its debut at last year's Consumer Electronics Show. From an Internet-connected computer, you can drive the $250 robot around your house, watch it from the built-in camera, and talk to people in your house through the mic and speaker. For all intents and purposes it's a toy, but it's also got the makings of a very capable telepresence machine.
Unlike traditional Web cams, or mounted security cameras, the Rovio is mobile. It has a built-in Wi-Fi antenna and three wheels that have little wheels of their own. This design means it cannot handle stairs, but it does let it move in any direction without a lot of back and forth cornering like you'd get with a vacuum. All the while you can watch everything it's seeing in streaming VGA-quality video.
The Rovio's control system is managed entirely in a Web browser. You control all of its movements with a cockpit of controls that lets you perform a number of tasks without any special training. In other words, you don't need to read the manual.
Included is a control grid that lets you rotate the robot a predetermined number of degrees in one direction or the other. Or you can hit one of the four-way directional buttons to get it moving forward, backward, or side to side. Its big trick though is that it also lets you drag your mouse as if you were using an analog control stick, which controls how fast it moves in any one direction. This provides a very fluid-like feeling when maneuvering it around your house.
The control panel also gives you three choices for how you want its camera angled. The default has it sitting flat, but you can also have it move up a few inches (while still staying level), or going up in a 45 degree angle that lets you sneak a peak at the ceiling. Out of the three I found the middle to be the sweet spot, but I often found myself wanting… Read more