ASUS has announced Zenbo their 21st century robot butler on wheels. Although the technical details of the cloying little robot are scarce, it does claim to pack a lot into a small and (reasonably) well priced package beginning at $599. The features include voice control for basic home automation functionality similar to Google Home or the Amazon Echo. For example, it will respond to: “Zenbo, turn up the lights” or “Zenbo, turn off the television”. ASUS has not released details about which automation systems it will connect with at launch; however, a developer program was announced simultaneously which bodes well for the potential extensibility of the system.
In addition to controlling your home automation systems, Zenbo can follow you around the house, take pictures on command, play your music, display photos and information on its display, recognize individuals and interact with them uniquely, learn your preferences and provide reminders. A key difference is that Zenbo is designed to listen to you and understand natural language queries and use this understanding to respond emotionally with facial expressions.
Zenbo is being marketed as a minder for the elderly that can relay triggers if they fall or need emergency assistance and/or for young children by reading stories and playing interactive games. All of this sounds great and if ASUS has managed to pull together all of these features in a seamless and consumer friendly way that actually works as advertised, the Zenbo could be a powerful product and one of the first consumer robots that is more than just a toy.
Anyone who grew up watching robots like R2D2 on Star Wars or has had even the slightest interaction with Science Fiction will at one point or another have wanted a robot buddy. If Zenbo can deliver a useful set of tools with an interface that doesn’t turn people off it certainly could have a huge market. Personally, as much as I want this to be a great product I find the interface overly sweet and am skeptical about the real-world functionality, but that may just be me not fitting the target demographic very well or is maybe something that could be fixed with a hack or some new apps. That said, this is a product I will be keeping my eyes on!