The Qihan Sanbot Could Become Your Robot Butler

Robots are getting a lot cheaper to make, and that means they’re becoming a lot cheaper to buy — cheap enough to start entering homes as the robot butlers science fiction has promised us for decades. So far, we’ve seen some pretty cute attempts, and we’ve seen some…other attempts. But, with research into chatbot software heating up and digital assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google Now becoming ever more useful, plans for those robots are getting bigger, too. At IFA last week, a Chinese company called Qihan unveiled Sanbot, a robot that can do it all — eventually.

IFA is a time for hype, so we weren’t surprised to hear about all the things Sanbot can be — a bodyguard, a secretary, a waiter, a salesperson, a butler, and the list goes on and on. We’re not sure about the bodyguard part, given the Sanbot is equipped with flippers and wheels, but we’ll buy just about everything else. Sanbot is almost three feet tall and about 42 pounds, so while it’s bigger than most consumer-oriented bots we’ve seen, it’s not going to start pushing around us humans anytime soon. Sanbot can give us a heads up if it spots an intruder, though — Qihan got its start in home surveillance, so they have some expertise there.

Sanbot is stocked with sensors, and is big enough to accommodate any new ones Qihan might want to add down the road. That could include sensors to pick up temperature, altitude, or air pressure. It’ll definitely include cameras and sonar, which will be used for object recognition — mainly so Sanbot doesn’t crash into those objects (it’d work similar to how a Roomba or Neato Botvac works). But, Qihan says that with the help of machine learning and microphones, Sanbot will also be able to interact intelligently with people. That would involve listening to and responding to natural language, but Qihan says they’re also working on getting Sanbot to recognize and adapt to human facial expressions and the emotions they convey. Sanbot will also have Wi-Fi and ZigBee connectivity, so it could be an Alexa-like smart home hub, too — a must for any potential robot butler.

Sanbot’s face shows up on a 10.1″ 1080p touch display, which can become a regular, tablet-like interface when needed. Qihan also went full R2-D2 and added a 1920 x 720 projector, too. Meanwhile, a massive 20 Ah battery would allow Sanbot to go for four hours before needing to head back for a recharge.

That all sounds pretty cool, but Qihan needs to answer one question definitively — why? Without uses, the Sanbot is an expensive toy, and that’s why the company has invested so much in their AI platform. It’s cloud-based, as virtually all machine learning needs to be — there’s just no way to store continuously growing AI algorithms on a single unit. Fortunately, being cloud-based allows Qihan to work with other companies and developers. They have an API that developers can use to create programs for Sanbot involving their AI platform, and are working with Google and Amazon to improve Sanbot’s functionality. For their part, Qihan has already created a control app that will be the hub for all these future uses.

But, good software needs to be created first, and while Sanbot’s estimated $6,000 price tag is relatively low for a robot of its size, it still needs to prove to consumers, businesses, and hospitals that it’s worth the cost. In other words, our jobs are still safe — at least for a little while. Want to get a better idea about what Sanbot is like? Check out the video below, but heads up — it’s a trip.

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