Kickstarting: A Personal iPhone Robot Inspired By The Bondi Blue iMac

It has sharp teeth and tank legs. But Romo humanizes technology by giving robots a personality.

There’s a scene in Rocky IV that’s easily the worst in the series. Rocky, now swimming in money, has a robot butler bring out a cake for Paulie. Rocky tells Paulie to make a wish. Paulie responds, “I wish I wasn’t in this nightmare!”


I can’t explain why any filmmaker could think the scene was a good idea, beyond maybe one unavoidable fact: For all the neat stuff mankind has built, ultimately we all want a robo buddy.

Romo is a Kickstarter project that reimagines the iPhone as a quirky, autonomous robot. It’s the second generation of the maker-friendly bot. Docking with a battery-powered tank, Romo can move around the room on his own, recognize faces, and initiate teleconferencing. But he’s also skinnable with all sorts of personalities, giving the iPhone a presence beyond the anonymous slab of glass.

For version two, the Romotive team wanted to create something more friendly, more approachable, so they teamed with a designer from Frog to dig through Apple’s lineage in this regard.

“We looked at the cases for all the Apple devices, from the original Mac to the MacBook Air,” Romotive’s Jen McCabe tells Co.Design. “This robot is actually our attempt at the Boni Blue iMac. The design made computers accessible. We wanted the same thing for Romo.”

With the friendly body in place, the team wanted to reskin Romo’s personality, too. Using custom software and help from an animator who’s worked on PBS children’s cartoons, the team worked to further capitalize on the tone of accessibility.

“How do we build a robot that has functions but is not creepy?” McCabe asks. “We started developing a character–a kind of alien. He makes his own utterances like R2D2.”


But at its heart, Romo is a platform for modders and makers. So the team made a difficult design decision, to allow users to change Romo’s very identity. In development now is a platform that allows a digital reskinning and revoicing of Romo’s personality. Users will be able to drag and drop new faces much like they’re giving a facelift to Mr. Potato Head.

“The goal has not been to impose [on] Romo a singular personality,” McCabe says, “but create the first personal robot for everyone.”

And that’s obviously a compelling idea. Romo has already greatly exceeded its funding goal on Kickstarter, but it’s not too late to pre-order your own for $150.

Order him here.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.