In-home robots to help with everything from cooking and cleaning to childcare and companionship have been the stuff of sci-fi for decades. But, with the unveiling this week of the Wall-E-like Asus Zenbo, this is the year that science-fiction could turn into science-fact, introducing home assistants that can talk to you, control your electronics and help out with the chores. Here are five that could be knocking at your door in the near future.
The latest robot to offer help around the home is Asus’s Zenbo, which, at $599 (£410), costs about the same as a smartphone. Designed to be a do-it-all smarthome assistant, Zenbo can drive itself around your place, using various cameras to keep it from bumping into the walls. A touchscreen face allows it to emote, while speakers and microphones allow it to respond to voice commands and have a chat. It will control the gizmos in your home, keep an eye on older people and alert carers in case of accidents. It will even entertain the kids with a song-and-dance number.
Pepper is the closest thing we’ve got to C-3PO: a humanoid robot on wheels with a camera- and sensor-filled head, a touchscreen on its chest and independent, articulated arms. It’s meant to be endearing, but it has a distinct cyberman vibe going on. Priced at 198,000 yen (£1,220), Pepper is capable of holding conversations, reading emotions and entertaining you, but it’s restricted to Japan at the moment. It’s not just for home, though; SoftBank has put it in stores as a robot shopping assistant from the future.
The “world’s first social robot”, Jibo is a small, tabletop bot costing $749 that looks like a cross between Pingu and Kenny from South Park. Unlike Zenbo and Pepper, Jibo is fixed to the spot and only about 30cm tall. The head and body rotate independently, which gives it a bit of life, like one of those dancing flowers from the 1990s. It can talk and emote using its screen, and it has cameras and microphones to keep the kids entertained, take family portraits and keep older people on track via reminders. It will even act as a wingman for lonely bachelors, if the promo video is to be believed.
Less robot, more Internet-of-Things speaker come voice-assistant hub, the $180 Amazon Echo has been a sleeper hit in the US and spawned rivals from Google and others. Echo will play music, of course, but it has the ability to control various other bits around the house – from the lights to your washing machine – tell you the weather and bring you information, such as the latest scores in the French Open. It’s all powered by Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant, and can be extended using microphone-containing pucks: place these around your home and they will listen out for the trigger word “Alexa”. It’s like turbo-charged Siri for the home, or a Star Trek-style “Hello, computer”.
Dyson 360 Eye
One of the humble chores that robots have already conquered is vacuum cleaning. iRobot’s Roomba series has been sucking up dirt for years, noisily bumping its way around the house to build a map of obstacles. Now, a new breed of robot vacuum cleaners – including Dyson’s 150,000-yen 360 Eye, which is finally launching in the UK later this year – is able to scan and map out your room using cameras and lasers, plotting the optimum route and making sure the place is spotless. It won’t do your stairs, but the rest of your house is the robot’s domain.
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