ROVIO Rolls Out: First Impressions of WowWee's Surprising Robot


We've always been enamoured with 'remote presence' as a future concept, but our experience this week with the new ROVIO robot quickly converted us from skeptics into true believers. This extremely well thought-out robot has been designed with the user's needs in mind from the start. The ROVIO is intuitive and is a pleasure to use from the moment you first open the box.


ROVIO's SF body styling makes it look like it just warped in from the Enterprise, or
through a stargate


The robots upper surface is ringed by blue LEDs that are not only a cool style point,
 they also indicate the robots state, and make it easy to locate. The large circular sensor
picks up the True Track beacons reflected on the ceiling to determine it's location,
kind of like a mini-GPS system. The power switch and mini-USB port are located in
the center for easy access


ROVIO has a built-in LED headlight to allow its camera to send back video and photos
even in darkened rooms. There is also an IR proximity sensor to help it avoid objects
when operating autonomously. This comes into play when you tell the robot to find
its way home by itself, or having it running a patrol route you've previously setup.


ROVIO's camera and location sensors are mounted on an articulated head so that
it can point the camera view at three different elevations - the floor view looking
straight ahead, slightly elevated (as in the photo above), or looking up (like a
puppy admiring its master).

The omni-directional wheels provide fantastic mobility - better than any other wheeled
robot we've tested, but do tend to pickup any stray hairs on the floor, as you can see
in the photo.


ROVIO's camera head in it's maximum elevated position. 

For a quick test drive, we put ROVIO in our second floor storage room, then went back downstairs to drive it remotely using our desktop PC (Windows XP, though we also tested the robot using Vista) and our wireless network:



Painless Setup 

Unboxing and configuring the ROVIO turned out to be much easier than we thought. We literally had ROVIO up and running within 5 minutes of opening the box. It was as simple as taking the robot and other items out of the box, installing the battery pack (Phillips screwdriver required - not included), connecting the robot to our PC, running the setup software, and answering a few prompts.


The battery pack is easily installed in the robots underbelly by removing the cover
(requires a Phillips screwdriver). The two large metal pads are the charging contacts
 that mate with the charger when the robot is docked.

The robot supports both Windows (XP or Vista) and Mac users. The Setup CD that comes with the robot includes software that configures Windows systems and a step by step procedure is provided for Mac users, and advanced PC users, to configure their systems manually. It's as simple as adding a new network connection then setting the TCP/IP properties.


The ROVIO software supports control over your local wireless network, remotely via
an IP address, or can even be assigned to a domain that you own, like (just an example).

Initially we satisfied ourselves with just running ROVIO around via our home wireless network, which worked without a single glitch. After we were confident that everything was functioning perfectly, we followed the ROVIO manual instructions to be able to access ROVIO remotely over the internet.

That turned out to be a little more challenging since it involves opening two ports on the wireless router (80 and 554). We had to pull out the documentation for our router, and dig through it to figure out what settings needed to be changed. Every users situation will be a little different depending on their particular router and ISP. Some ISP block outbound traffic on port 80, so the ROVIO manual provides instructions for using other port assignments.

It's important to note that ROVIO is username and password protected, and that you can setup multiple users.

Unparalleled Mobility 

The ROVIO mobility platform consists of three powered omni-directional wheels. The unique wheel design enables movement in any direction - forward, back, shift left or right, rotate slightly or 180 degrees, or even spin in a circle - all at the touch of a button.


The motion panel is logically laid out and simple to use. The ROVIO icon in the
center is used like a joystick - just drag it in any direction and the robot responds.
The large white arrows make it move forward, back, or move laterally left or right,
as long as you hold them down.

 The two blue arrows at the top rotate ROVIO slightly clockwise or counter-clockwise.
 And, the blue dots around the outside quickly rotate the robot to a preset angle.
 Orientation is always relative to the robots body, and is intuitive since it matches
 the view you see via ROVIO's camera.

Helpful Hint thanks to Robert at Holding the SHIFT key on your
PC keyboard down while directing the ROVIO's movement allows you to make
small position adjustments to get the robot right on target.

Trail Blazing

The ROVIO allows you to create up to 10 'paths' or sequences, and play them back whenever you like. Each path can contain several actions, like driving a route, changing the camera elevation, or taking and emailing a photo. This can be very handy when you have regular surveillance tasks you want the robot to perform.


For example, your robot could scoot across the living room, take a photo of the front door and email it to you, scoot over to the dog's food and water bowls to take another photo and email it to you, then make a tour of the kitchen before heading back to its docking station. "Way Points" are like bread crumbs that you have ROVIO drop along any path you define.

Home Base 


The ROVIO Charging Dock acts as its local home base. The robot backs up a short, shovel-shaped ramp until its rear wheel drops into a small trough allowing its charging contacts to touch the mating dock contacts. Thanks to the robots omni-directional wheels and dock design, when we backed our ROVIO into the dock for charging it aligned smoothly without any false starts or problems.

The Charging Dock also contains a mast that's used for alignment when the robot self-docks, and a TrueTrack Beacon that projects the navigation signals used by the robot to determine its location.



The beacon needs a clear shot at the ceiling to project its IR beams so that they will be reflected back down at the floor for the robot to track. This wasn't a problem for us, but if the room has extremely high ceilings (over 15 feet), tall furniture that could block the signals, or large windows with strong sunlight, the robot might run into some difficulty. The WowWee designers included two red alignment LEDs in the beacon that project dots on the ceiling to make it easy to setup properly. In normal operation the red dots are not visible. 

One thing, that should have been obvious to us in hindsight, is that the Charging Dock needs to be placed against a wall or other stable object that will keep it from sliding on the floor when the ROVIO docks.


The charging contacts in the dock are normally recessed, but pop-up to make
contact when ROVIO's rear wheel drops into the trough at the back of the dock.

Just like Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin, ROVIO can automatically find its way back home. Once the robot is operational, and you have the dock positioned where you want it, then you click on the "Save Home" icon. The robot drives off the dock, checks its position using the beacon signals, then automatically redocks. Later, whenever you want it to go back home, just click on the "Home" icon and it will find its way to the dock, and even try to avoid obstacles in its way.


The "Save Home" and "Home" icons are conveniently located on the control
panel's Paths tab.

Assuming the ROVIO is in the same room as the Charging Dock, when its batteries start to run low a warning message appears on the control interface. After you click on the warning, the robot figures out where the dock is located and trundles over and docks to recharge. Charging the batteries can take roughly two hours if the battery pack is depleted. Of course, if you continue to use the robot after the low battery warning is displayed, eventually it won't have enough power to find its way home.  


No new product is perfect from the get-go. Thanks to ROVIO's browser based design,
WowWee will be able to make download-able firmware updates available via the
ROVIO support webpage. The robot software already includes the ability to reset
and load new firmware releases.

Some Limitations 

Note: These apply to the unit we tested and may change with future production units.

Wireless Access Passwords - At this point ROVIO only supports WEP passwords for wireless access points. If your browser uses WPA passwords, then you'll need to consult your router manual to determine how to change it to a WEP password. Apparently WowWee is working on a firmware update to support WPA since the manual suggests checking the WowWee support website for updates.

Browser Support - To get full functionality out of the ROVIO, you'll need to use Internet Explorer 6 or later. For IE, ROVIO supports MPEG4 video and mono, 8-bit, two-way audio. For the Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Opera browsers, ROVIO supports M-JPEG (motion JPEG) but audio functionality is not available at this time. 

This Is Not A Toy 

As the robots box clearly states, "This is not a toy" - far from it. With the ROVIO, WowWee has delivered a highly functional and extremely useful robot appliance that will find broad application both in the home and in office environments. In addition to remote viewing - like home security, we plan on using it for video conferencing, especially in situations where there is a need to pan around the room, or to look at items - like new product models, from different perspectives.

Also, the ROVIO is small and light enough that it's easy to pick up and carry. It would be the perfect tool to carry around and give remote clients a tour of our facilities. For that matter, you could use it to let the grandparents feel they were right in the middle of a birthday party, even if they are hundreds of miles away. 

Sanity Check 

To get a sanity check, and to make sure we weren't overlooking something important about this exciting new robot, we asked Robert Oschler, the founder of and the leading expert on all WowWee robotic products, for his perspective:

"I feel Rovio's biggest advantage over other consumer mobile telepresence robots is the Northstar navigation system which allows it to drive itself.  

The reality is that people will find themselves fairly often in places where their broadband connection is spotty due to connection quality issues (frequent drops) or severe latency. Trying to drive with a poor video stream or where there is a severe latency between the time a movement command is selected and the time the effect of that movement becomes visible in your browser is a difficult task to say the least.  

Rovio will still be able to execute patrol routes perfectly since it can drive itself and can take high quality pictures at each waypoint automatically, if you set that up with the patrol route. These photos can be set to be automatically E-mailed to you via a selected E-mail account. This means Rovio can still be successful in its role as a home surveillance robot even when faced with the reality of varying web connections." 


We think ROVIO is positioned to be the hottest robot for the upcoming holiday season, and for a long time to come. This robots functionality, usefulness, styling, and ease of use sets new standards. Not only is it a fantastic mobile webcam platform, it also lends itself to other applications. We can easily imagine colleges and research labs using ROVIO as a robotic platform to investigate swarming, or, on the lighter side, a new robot soccer league.

Related links: - WowWee Official ROVIO website

ROVIO on - ROVIO resource website - More Robots Dreams articles and information on ROVIO


21 thoughts on “ROVIO Rolls Out: First Impressions of WowWee's Surprising Robot

  1. Wow I love the look.
    However I am pretty sure that the beast won’t like the stairs here :)

    After it remains to be seen how open it is to customization.
    A shame that once again such a robot doesnt come with a more open architecture.


  2. I am very impressed with this robot! The navigation system is wild!

    I share your concerns about the lack of WPA support. Reminds me of the WEP-only frustrations of the nabaztag wi-fi rabbit (wpa is supported with the nabaztag/tag which came out later). Lint and hair on the wheels is another downer. Both of these could be corrected in another rev but I also wonder why Internet Explorer is required for audio, especially given the increasing market share of Mac OS X (plus everyone else on various flavors of linux).

    Has anyone heard about the status of iRobot’s Connect-R?

  3. Sounds like a winner. My house, like many houses built in the last few years, have cathedral ceilings – sounds like a problem. Hope someone can respond on what kind of problem sloping ceilings might cause?

  4. Great, thanks for the first review on the robot I want to get. Originally I was drawn to the Spykee, but then when Rovio was announced, it seemed to be more functional.

    Thanks for the warning on WEP (what were they thinking?) and on non-IE browsers.

    To all readers, download the manual at the following link, it does make it’s browser limitations clear.

    link to

  5. Just wondering how loud this thing is – enough to wake up a sleeping baby?

  6. Wow, that is an awesome robot. How well does it handle carpet though…mine is not shaggy, but the small wheel looks like it would have trouble with it. Also, how does the tracking works? Does it follow the red dot on the ceeling? What about if there are other red led lights around the house, such as a flashing led light on alarm systems motion sensors? Can it patrol where there isn’t a tracking beacon? I can get pretty expeensive to get a beakon for everry room. No wpa kinda sucks, but hopefully it has some programming capabilities. It’s nice that it has a infrared receiver for tracking, but they could have used the camera also and maybe some reflective markers that you can put at strategic location for navigation. Using the computer to program it where to go and do things. I think the infrared might be limited, but good when internet connectioon is slow.

  7. Cathedral ceilings are a problem. It wants a flat ceiling ~10 feet high to see it’s beacon. Spray-on acoustic ceiling shmoo doesn’t seem to hurt it though.

    It’s not overly loud. My six year old sleeps through it :)

    It’ll run a couple hours on a charge. However, it will return to it’s charging base when low. It is also safe to leave it sitting on it’s charging base at all times, it’ll disable it’s charging circuit if it doesn’t need it.

    Handles low-medium pile carpet fairly well, as well as transitions between carpet and no-carpet. The red lights on the ceiling are just for aiming, they shut off after several seconds. It’s a pair of infrared dots projected on the ceiling for navigation, at a frequency the Rovio is tuned to read. Other lights don’t seem to affect it, including sunlight or TV remotes.

  8. It would be nice if it had either an additional camera or a way to position the camera arm so that you could see the front of the robot so you can see what it is hanging up on when you try to move forward.
    The other thing that I noticed is that it seems to have one speed(or maybe the low speed is not very low) so the movement was very jerky.
    That being said it is very cool. If it could climb stairs, it could replace those police/swat team robots for a tiny fraction of the cost. I am sure the next version will have a manipulator arm which will be very interesting.

  9. This would be a great for our office :-) especially if there’s a loudspeaker inside so the operator can talk to whomever is at the other end.

    offtopic: great music in the video. Which band is it? I loved the sax-solo…

  10. One question that has been nagging at me ever sice I’ve been reading about the Rovio’s unique guidance system…Does the Rovio need to see the TruTrack beacon continuously in order to navigate? Can the charging station be in one room and the Rovio access other rooms? How does it handle a large room with ceiling dividers (drop-down semi wall that lots of modern houses have). Even though my kitchen, living room, dining room and library are all connected, they are not all visible from a single location. How does the TruTrack work in environments like this?
    Any help?

  11. For some applications I would like a more elevated view, like looking out the window to check the yard. Although it can’t climb stairs I wonder if it could find and go up a low slope ramp and turn around and descend safely.

  12. Is there a way to add height to the cam?
    maybe some sort of addon. This owuld let us look out our windows.

  13. FAQS
    “One question that has been nagging at me ever sice I’ve been reading about the Rovio’s unique guidance system…Does the Rovio need to see the TruTrack beacon continuously in order to navigate?”
    Can the charging station be in one room and the Rovio access other rooms?
    Of course, you are the driver through the webcam, it just can’t go automatically to home if it is in another room (the base projects two infrared signs on the roof of the room that are used to calculate the path to reach the home base, so it must see them with the cam).

    How does it handle a large room with ceiling dividers (drop-down semi wall that lots of modern houses have). Even though my kitchen, living room, dining room and library are all connected, they are not all visible from a single location. How does the TruTrack work in environments like this?
    Any help?”
    It avoids obstacles with IR sensor when going to home, but normally you are the driver. If you play recorded path it runs them in a stupid way (without care about obstacles). The IR sensor is used just to run the command “go to home”.

    The cam has 3 positions you can choose from. One horizontal position, a middle one and another to look at the sky or under ladies’ skirts (very useful for this purpose).

  14. Can the ‘find home’ navigation system work in a room with a wood-beamed cathedral ceiling?

  15. I received the Rovio as a gift and was very excited about it. It held great promise as a mobile webcam.

    I attempted to set up the unit following all of the instructions to the letter. I quickly found out that it was made ONLY for use with Windows XP. At a time when Windows 7 is now the prevalent operating system it seems fairly lame that a company is still (after years now) using an operating system TWO versions back. TechSupport was zero help. While they always respond, it is usually to say, “No, we don’t do that or, Sorry that is not planned or Sorry…” you get the picture.

    I was able to connect to the unit by setting up a Windows XP VM on my Windows 7 PC. I got in to the unit and set everything according to the instructions. Success, right?!


    The unit bricked and would not allow me to reconnect. MANY tries were fruitless. Tech Support’s response? “Sorry we don’t…”

    So now I have an interesting door stop but not much else…what to do.

    FINALLY (after endless tries), I got WowWee support (amazingly) to agree to give me another one. They gave me the shipping information and case number; I packaged the unit back in its original box and packing EXACTLY as it had been delivered to me and sent it. I had to pay to ship it myself – $32.00. I asked WowWee support to reimburse me. Response: “Sorry we don’t…” See a pattern here?

    Ok, days went by, I tracked the shipment and saw that it had arrived but then the next day, was at a station in NY. Hmmm…what gives? Oh, maybe they are shipping me the other one. I got my hopes up…bad move.

    The unit was REFUSED by WowWee and sent back to me unopened! No reason given.

    So it arrived back to me. I asked Tech Support for a manager to escalate this. Obviously I was dealing with people who were…um…less than professional here so I hoped to get someone higher up. Tech support…”Sorry, we don’t have anyone. Just email Customer support and a manager will read it.”

    By now, I was losing any vestige of hope (or confidence) that anyone from Wowwee actually gave a hoot about their products or their customers but I wrote to Customer Support anyway.

    To date (some considerable time has passed) I have never heard a word. Even the Tech Support guys do not respond anymore. I am out $32 and have a funny looking doorstop.

    Whatever you do, NEVER do any business with WowWee unless you appreciate being treated like a piece of crap.

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