Ever since the Jetsons beamed onto screens in the 1960s, most of us have dreamed about having a robotic maid or butler. While it doesn't have the arms its need to do the laundry or bring you a cocktail, Asus' new Zenbo could be the closest we've come to a mass-market personal robot. Starting at just $599, the Zenbo can roll around your home, taking pictures, reminding you to take your medicine, telling stories to your kids or helping you find the perfect recipe.
At its Computex 2016 press event, Asus rolled out the robot by showing an 11-minute video that showcased a number of its capabilities. In the clip, a family spends an entire day interacting with Zenbo in different ways. A mother asks Zenbo for the best Paella recipe, children play with the Zenbo while it tells them a story and Zenbo provides companionship for the grandfather while helping his family keep an eye on him. Throughout the video, the robot operates exclusively via natural language voice commands.
In its press release, Asus gave the robot's senior-care abilities top billing. Zenbo not only reminds the grandfather in the video to take his medicine, but also helps initiate a video call with his grandson. The robot's face, which is actually a screen, can change from showing its cartoon eyes and mouth to displaying a video chat window or anything else its software allows. At another point in the clip, the grandfather falls down and Zenbo immediately calls his family.
Zenbo can also integrate with smart home devices. In the video, family members ask Zenbo to turn up the lights, turn off the TV and unlock a door, all of which it performs on command. It's not immediately clear which smart home standards the robot supports, but Asus has already launched a developer program so IoT companies will be able to make their own apps for it.
The robot can also serve as a companion for children. In the clip, the family's daughter has Zenbo tell her a story about a big bad wolf, transforming his normally cute face into a wolf in response to the story. Zenbo also quizzed the daughter about science.
Zenbo can also serve as a roving selfie stick, taking pictures whenever you. During a brief demo on stage, Asus Chairman Jonney Shih asked Zenbo to take a picture of him with the audience. It also turned on the studio lights on his command, reminded Shih of an upcoming appointment and greeted Intel Exec Navin Shenoy when he came up on stage.
Asus did not immediately release specs for the Zenbo, but it appears to be around 3-feet tall. With a round white head and body and a blue digital face on its screen, the robot looks a lot like WALL-E's friend Eve. The device is powered by Intel technology, but Asus did not specify exactly which components the chip maker is providing.
With Zenbo's robotic, yet childlike voice, Asus is clearly trying to make its device seem approachable, but the tone in the demo struck us as a little bit creepy. Hopefully, Asus will either refine the voice or offer different voice settings in the future.
Asus did not announce a shipping date for the Zenbo, but the model we saw on stage looked ready for prime time. We look forward to taking a closer look at the robot in the near future.