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Hands-on with Romo: Make your smartphone a spying robot

Startup Romotive is making a big splash with investors and its smart phone robot.

One of Romo's faces Romotive

LAS VEGAS--Romo, a playful robot that uses a smartphone as its brains, is on a roll.

The startup behind Romo, called Romotive, is just eight months old and investors have been eager to back it.

CEO and co-founder Keller Rinaudo told me that the company just closed its first major round of funding, taking an undisclosed amount from Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, the Stanford University endowment and several angel investors.

Romo uses the power of a smart phone's microprocessor. You dock one device--say, an iPod Touch--onto the base, turning it into the robot. Then, from a second device--say, your iPhone--you use the app to control it via the wi-fi network. You can make it can smile or frown. It can swivel, crash into another Romo, or wander, all while recording what it sees on video. (Hence, the spy aspect)

So it's a toy, for sure, and a ton of fun. But I suspect its big-money backers are betting it can be more and that people will come up with unexpected uses. In fact, Romotive provides an open software development kit (SDK) so that anyone can develop apps for Romo.

Romotive started out in Seattle, where it was part of the incubator TechStars, but it's now based in Las Vegas, where the Romotive team is assembling Romos at a rapid pace out of an apartment.

Romo costs $99, and Romotive expects to ship them in February or March.

Here's the video I made with Rinaudo here at CES.

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