Jul 7, 2016

The ASUS Zenbo Robot, Your Home Companion!

Who needs a smartphone when you can have a robotic helper in your house?

ASUS' Zenvolution was a huge hit at Computex 2016, not only from its trio of luscious Zen line of smartphones and laptops but also for its surprising entry into the home robot companion market – the ASUS Zenbo Robot. Taking a page from SHARP's RoBoHon, ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih was there to sell a dream – that of a home with its own house robot companion.

The Zenbo is about a meter tall, and it can move its head, roll around the house, check who's at the door (and open it), and manage your house's lights, TV, air conditioning, and even help you with the cooking. Zenbo is also a savvy photographer, able to take pictures of friends and family whenever you ask him to.

For USD599 (about PHP27,500) the Zenbo seems like an incredible value, considering that you get a whole robot instead of a flagship smartphone in your pocket. The Zenbo has a passing resemblance to Apple's iMac G4, with a smaller looking monitor that serves as his face and an impromptu touchpad. Comparisons will no doubt also be made to Star Wars' BB-8, but that is neither here nor there. You won't be getting a royal distress call from your Zenbo fleeing from Imperial troops anytime soon.

A lot of Zenbo's capabilities are tied to its face. The "monitor-face" is a 10-inch touchscreen which normally shows an animated face that smiles and says hello when it sees you. There are two cameras on the panel, a conventional camera, and a depth camera, which allow Zenbo to recognize people and navigate his surrounds, not to mention take pictures for you. A socket at the top is available for future accessories and modules, such as a projector.

The internals for Zenbo are a closely-guarded secret, but it's clear that he's running some version of Android. How ASUS kept the Zenbo's pricing so low is also a big mystery, but Shih did mention that they went for a practical approach, eschewing things like fingers and limbs, which would be impractical, expensive and not very useful given today's technology.

The child-like free-wheeling design is also a lot friendlier and appealing to all age groups, as opposed to an expensive humanoid robot which could be imposing. Like Google's Now technology, Zenbo responds to your commands once you get his attention with a "Hey Zenbo," call. The robot has natural language processing and can understand your commands if you speak with him conversationally. This makes Zenbo fairly useful even to elderly people or to children who may not understand the nuances of formal OS commands.

Zenbo still has time before launch, but if ASUS can keep him under USD600 as promised it's sure to turn quite a few heads and it may just kick start the home robot market altogether.