Home robots and home robot projects have been around a while and yet none of these devices have made huge inroads into the at-home market as yet, unless you count robotic vacuums such as the Roomba, or non-mobile personal assistants such as the Amazon Echo or the coming Google Home. Yet the market is set to explode. Juniper Research predicts one in ten American households will have a robot within the next 10 years.
Now Asus is the first major consumer electronics company to leap into the fray with an affordable option. On the first day of Taipei's Computex 2016 conference (which happens to be Memorial Day here in the U.S.) Asus chairman Jonney Shih shared the stage with Zenbo, a cute and chipper little robot that puts many of the features of a smartphone onto a rolling, child-sized device that speaks in a child-like voice and can follow you around or come find you to remind you that it's time to take a pill or leave for an appointment. No word on when this device will be ready to ship (or whether there will be options for a voice that doesn't sound like it came out of a cartoon) but at $599, the price makes it an intriguing proposition. So does Asus' decision to begin reaching out to developers right now with an SDK (software developer kit) that means they can start adding third-party functions to the device already. Another smart choice is Zenbo's touchscreen "face," which has a good range of facial expressions, but also allows you to interact with the device, swiping and tapping as you would on a smartphone.
There's a lengthy and seriously hokey video showing everything Zenbo can do below. If you don't want to watch: It can remind users to take medications, take photos, play music, dance (in its own robotic way), find and read out recipes, entertain kids with stories and quizzes, make and receive phone calls (through its speaker), shop online, show you who's at the door and unlock the door, and alert family members when someone such as a senior has fallen and may need help. Being on wheels it presumably can't climb stairs, so that's something to keep in mind depending how your home is configured.
Like the Amazon Echo, the cloud-connected Zenbo is set to add capabilities and become more sophisticated over time. At that lower-than-usual price point for an in-home robot, I could see getting one.
Here's the video. Don't say I didn't warn you: