Amazon Echo and Google Home, among others, have sought to solve the central problem of the smart home — making everything work together. The concept of a hub that can work with all the connected devices in your home and understand voice commands is one that the market badly needs if consumer adoption of the internet of things is going to keep moving forward. Asus now wants in on that action, and they’re looking to put a friendlier face on the smart home. At their Computex 2016 press event, Asus announced Zenbo. Zenbo is the newest robot assistant on the market, and as it turns out, he’s got a lot more going for him than just being cute.
Zenbo’s biggest advantage over his smart home hub rivals is that he’s mobile. He has a ball for a body with small wheels underneath and a tablet for a face. That means Zenbo can act as a roving security camera that can stream video live over your home’s Wi-Fi connection (or take stills on command). But, he’ll also come when he’s called (as was demonstrated on stage), and he’s got a little something for everyone in the family once he’s been summoned.
While Zenbo is a complete smart home assistant, he excels with kids and the elderly. For the latter, Zenbo can help them care for themselves, while also offering a bit of companionship. In general, Zenbo can be used to set reminders and alerts — in this case, to regularly remind someone to take their medication. More specific to seniors is a feature using Zenbo’s camera. If he rolls around and detects that an older member of the family has fallen down and hasn’t gotten up, Zenbo will take a picture and send it to designated contacts immediately, so they can put in a call to emergency responders, if need be. Meanwhile, the kids get a funny-voiced buddy who can dance, read stories, and play games.
But, Zenbo is mostly a standard smart home hub. The built-in camera and speaker can be used to keep tabs on the house and contact anyone inside. The speaker also means that Zenbo can talk back in his cutesy robot voice — saccharine but admittedly endearing. Zenbo will respond to queries like Siri or Google Now would, but can also do things like read off recipes. Zenbo is no dummy, either — the most impressive part of the on-stage demo was when Asus Chairman Jonny Shih asked Zenbo if Einstein or da Vinci was smarter. Instead of accepting the question as a search query and blurting out a non-sequitur, Zenbo simply replied that he didn’t know. As you’d expect, Zenbo can also work with smart home devices like lights, refrigerators, TVs, and doorbells, with voice commands that can be used to control everything. His tablet face can become a regular tablet if you need to handle some tasks manually, too.
Zenbo is definitely a heartwarmer, but is he worth the asking price? It really depends on how much you’ve bought into the concept of a smart home, or whether or not you think you’ll buy in in the near future. If it’s not for you, then Zenbo will probably wear out his welcome pretty quick. But, if you’ve got a bunch of disparate smart home devices and have been shopping for ways to tie them all together, Zenbo’s the friendliest face we’ve seen. His personality won’t be for everyone, but hey, who’s to say there will only be one Zenbo? Asus is releasing an SDK to developers, so we’re expecting plenty of alternate personalities and faces for Zenbo, along with new features and functionality.
Zenbo looks a little silly at first blush, but adding mobility to a smart home hub is a pretty good idea that hasn’t been executed as well as Asus has managed here. Better yet, for a mobile, smart robot, the asking price of $600 isn’t as high as we’d expect. No word on exactly when Zenbo is going to start rolling into homes, but we’re sure Asus will have more to say about their new robot pal in the near future.