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Leenby Social Robot is Ready to Greet Customers, Give Directions

It's easy to imagine robots doing jobs that involve manual labor, but how about having an automaton as a Walmart greeter or an office receptionist? Leenby can perform those highly-social tasks and many other duties which involve communicating with humans and showing the around.

The product of French startup Cybedroid, the 4.5-foot tall robot looks like the lovechild of Rosie the Robot and the guys from Daft Punk. She has the bell-shaped bottom and clamp hands of the famous Jetson's maid and a high-tech visor over her eyes that looks like something the pop stars would wear.  Her color scheme is storm trooper-esque with a glossy white body that's accented by black stripes and black hands.

Leenby may look high tech and -- indeed the technology inside her is quite powerful -- but she's all about low-tech communication tasks. She's designed to recognize a person and roll over to talk to them. She can answer questions, make gestures with her hands and move around a room (without hitting anything) to help guide people to their destinations.

Cybedroid Sales and Marketing Director Sylvain Bream told us that the company plans to lease Leenby to companies in the hospitality and retail industries. He said that she can be an excellent information desk, helping customers find the check in desk at a hotel or the sporting goods aisle at a store. She could even escort them to their destinations.

In the future, Leenby could also appear at museums or other public attractions. Want to know the Picasso exhibit is? Just ask her. Bream said that, with the right programming effort, she could also be turned into a health aide for elderly people.

I had a chance to see Leenby in action here at CES and I was intrigued by her potential. During a brief demo, I saw the robot roll around a large room, approaching total strangers and then greeting them and giving a speech about herself. Leenby's creators can control her with a tablet, but she was mostly in autonomous mode.

While Leenby has hands with clasps, they cannot lift or grip objects. However, a human can hold her hand lead her around, a process I tried myself. It felt a little awkward holding hands with a robot and walking her across the room like I would a child, but this functionality could be quite useful. Not only could an operator -- a hotel employee for example -- lead her to the spot where she's needed, but on the fliip slide, the robot could help direct a chlid or disabled adult who needed help getting around.

On the inside, Leenby is powered by a full-fledged Windows PC. She also uses laser sensors to navigate around and avoid bumping into objects. A speaker and microphone allow her to communicate while powerful wheels in her base let her roll around.

Leenby is the fifth prototype robot from Cybedroid and Bream said that the company feels like she is nearly ready for deployment. You may see her at a store or hotel near you in about a year.