Rovio

Hammacher Schlemmer Homepage

rovio
A picture by WowWee.com, released under a Creative Commons license.

Rovio produced quite a hype when it was first announced by WowWee. This mobile webcam with its unique indoor navigation system, remotely movable neck and other features seemed like a "must-have" for many people and something like a dream come true for others.

Nevertheless, when the first units were shipped, major uproar emerged amongst people who bought it. Issues with batteries and AC adaptors seemed to be present. Some people also experienced problems with automatic docking, path recording and other features.

As I understand, you want to know more about this robot. So let me tell you what features are present and what are the most common issues customers have encountered, as well as what has been done to deal with them.

Requirements

To set up Rovio using the setup software available online a Mac or a PC with Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 installed is required. It is possible to set up the robot manually in ad hoc mode. In this case a computer with wireless capability is needed.

I'm pretty sure it is also possible to set up Rovio manually in ad hoc mode using Linux. Basically, everything you have to do is to connect to your robot's wireless network and configure it using a web browser. Anyway, this is covered in the manual.

As you can understand, a wireless access point is also required. To use it through the internet a pretty fast internet connection is required on both ends and a web browser. For a two way audio it is required to use Internet Explorer.

Features

rovio
A picture by WowWee.com, released under Creative Commons license.

The robot is intended to be connected to your wireless access point. It then can be accessed using either a local computer or a remote one. In case you want to access the robot through the internet some additional setup is needed.

The TrueTrack system is Rovio's indoor navigation system. It projects two infrared beams on the ceiling. By detecting these beams, the robot can calculate its position in the room. To extend the coverage of the truetrack navigation signal, it is possible to install additional truetrack beacons sold separately.

Do you wonder why extending the coverage is important? Rovio can record waypoints, play back the route and take pictures and send them by e-mail along this route. This is only possible if waypoints mentioned are within the truetrack coverage.

The robot is equipped with Omni-wheels. This means that it can "float" around in many directions instead of more traditional "drive forward, turn" way of motion. The robot is also capable of automatic docking. To use this function the home position has to be recorded in a certain way.

Flaws and criticisms

Rovio's neck can be remotely moved. While that seems great at first, actually, there's no use to it. There are three positions - low, a bit higher and high. There aren't really any difference between both low positions and the third lets you see the ceiling.

Many owners say that camera is useless unless the room is brightly lit. Some units have defective home bases – the robot will dock but won't charge as it doesn't connect to the charger properly. While this is insignificant if you're at home, that's a significant flaw if you're using it remotely.

Also, some people report battery problems. Usually these can be overcome if you charge your battery to the maximum manually once. Initially, Rovio supported only WEP wireless protection. With latest firmware it supports WEP and WPA at the moment. WPA2 is not supported at the moment I'm writing this.

Also, it is reported that path recording and automatic docking functions do not work. Some people find it difficult to set it up as it requires some networking knowledge. Also, setting up two robots in one wireless network can be a challenging task.

Manufacturer's response to these criticisms

Sure, I agree with those people who say that this robot was probably released a bit too soon. However, as I see it WowWee don't sit twiddling their thumbs with so much criticism referred to their creation. As I see it - they are working hard to rectify their mistakes.

For those who are dissatisfied with Rovio's poor performance in darker areas additional headlight is designed. At the moment I'm writing this it can be pre-ordered. As it is not released yet there is no information if it will be possible to switch this headlight on and off remotely though.

Update!

The headlight is now released and it can be switched on/off remotely.

Regarding the battery problems it seems that they ship a different AC adaptor now. Also some battery problems were firmware related. New versions of firmware are released from time to time so some initial bugs should be caught out by now. However, I can't assure that you won't have battery problems if you buy one.

Problems with automatic docking and path recording are most probably truetrack related. To educate people how the navigation system works and how it should be set up WowWee has made a video tutorial on this topic. Just search for "rovio truetrack tutorial".

I saw a video on YouTube where this robot didn't dock and didn't record a path. Amongst other possible issues I noticed that the home base is near Spykee's home base. As Spykee's home base emits IR signal it could be the problem. Rovio can get confused if there are other IR sources nearby.

To aid with the tough set up process WowWee has also made a video tutorial. This video tutorial explains basic networking and other concepts needed to set up Rovio successfully. You can find it at YouTube if you search for "Rovio Set-up tutorial".

The bottom line

Although I can't assure that you won't have problems and everything will work like charm, it seems that WowWee works on constantly improving this robot. Maybe at some point it will be just "next-next-finish" installation process and you'll have a remote webcam up and ready to be used from everywhere on the world with every mobile device you choose.

However, today one has to acknowledge that there still are some problems haunting this robot that would interfere with serious applications. On the other hand, one also has to acknowledge that the idea is pretty ingenious.

If you get a non defective unit and if you manage to get it work correctly it's surely a great fun owning Rovio yourself. Just make sure the shop you choose has a good reputation and return policy such as the Hammacher Schlemmer (this is an affiliate link - thank you, read ad disclosure).

In case you are interested in other robots with webcams that can be used over the internet, please go to my article on mobile webcams.

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