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5 Robot Butlers To Manage Your Smart Home

Zenbo family

The Jetsons did not lie to you: in the future, we will all have robot butlers. At least that’s what Asus would have you believe. At the Computex trade show in Taipei this week, the tech giant revealed its latest product is not a phone or laptop, but a personal robot called Zenbo.

Jonney Shih, the Asus chairman, said: “For decades, humans have dreamed of owning such a companion: one that is smart, dear to our hearts, and always at our disposal. Our ambition is to enable robotic computing for every household.”

However, while this is a radical departure for Asus, Zenbo is part of a wider trend of real-life droids launching this year with Segway announcing its hoverboard bot in January and Buddy the family companion being sent out to Kickstarter backers in July.

The main purpose of all these androids seems to be to provide a more human-like interface for controlling your disparate smart home devices and searching the internet without having to fiddle around with apps.

Zenbo will cost $599 (around £410), which is little more than a high-end smartphone, but still about $400 more than an Amazon Echo,  so it remains to be seen if added mobility and a cute pout is enough to justify the extra cost.

But if you’d rather tell your friends that you have your very own C3PO at home rather than a lamp shade containing a Google genie, here’s a round-up of the five personal robots that want to come home with you and obey your every command.

1. Zenbo

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Though it looks like a 2002 Apple iMac, Zenbo can read you recipes while you cook, play with your children and remind grandpa to take his medicine.

Its touchscreen head displays a face with emotions, it can respond to voice commands and move around independently on two wheels. Connected to wi-fi, it can control everything from compatible lights and TVs to allowing you to view visitors at the door on its screen and then unlock it with your voice.

Zenbo also has a built-in camera to take pictures and can entertain children with educational games and interactive stories. As well as reminding older users to take their medicine, it can monitor the home for emergency situations such as falls. If Zenbo detects a problem, the domestic drone will notify carers and allow them to pilot the robot remotely, using the camera to inspect the area.

Unfortunately, there is no word on when the Zenbo will go actually on sale, but developers can register their interest now.

The Zenbo costs $599 (around £410). For more information, visit zenbo.asus.com.

2. Buddy

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Before Zenbo came along, Buddy was arguably the cutest robot butler on the block. But once you’ve looked past his amicable exterior, he’s actually one of the most sophisticated robots out there, which you can buy for little more than a new games console. For kids, Buddy is the ultimate imaginary friend: he can read then stories, play hide-and-seek, teach them to spell, count and even introduce them to programming.

But the French-made Buddy is isn’t just a toy. For adults, Buddy can act as your own personal assistant, reminding you of your appointments and giving you travel updates before you leave the house. More advanced features include patrolling the house as a robotic security guard while you are out, sending alerts if senses unusual movement or the temperature rises suddenly, suggesting a fire. Buddy can also connect over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with all of the gadgets in your smart home, acting as a hub that responds to your voice commands.

Additional accessories add to Buddy’s arsenal of features, including a an attachable pico projector for family movie night and customisable arm, which allows Buddy to appear more animated and interact with the world.

Buddy is available to preorder now and should arrive this December.

Buddy costs €646 (around £500/$720). For more information, visit bluefrogrobotics.com.

3. Alpha 2

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Costing almost a £1,000, Alpha 2 is perhaps the most expensive personal robot you can buy right now, but it also has the most features, not to mention actual legs. As well as reminding you about appointments and controlling the tech around your house, Alpha 2 can tutor you in French,  sing songs, and recognise up to 50 faces so that it can personally engage with each member of your family.

Its humanoid build is supported by 20 servos making it surprisingly spry. In fact, in addition to being able to guide you through your morning yoga positions, Alpha 2 can perform each one as well. While its walking isn’t perfect, its movements are quite fluid and it can also dance, wave its hands and nod.

Alpha 2’s Indiegogo also promises the robot will respond to cutting-edge inputs, including ultrasonic, pressure and touch sensors. The first Alpha 2 bots should ship to backers later this month.

Alpha 2 costs £920/$1,300. For more information, visit ubtrobot.com.

4. Ulo

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Ulo is little more than a glorified surveillance system, but look at that face! This wifi-connected owlet’s beak is actually a two-way mirror containing a camera and motion sensor that watches and records what’s going on. Appropriately for an owl-shaped security guard, it also has night vision to work in the dark. In alert mode, if Ulo senses movement, it’ll send you a GIF of its CCTV footage.

Ulo also communicates through its big beaming eyes, which are actually two 1.22-inch LCD screens, similar to those that appear in many popular smartwatches. If Ulo is low on battery his eyes will look heavy and tired and if you’re watching its live video feed it will squint.

Using IFTTT, Ulo’s functions can trigger or be triggered by other connected devices or internet services. For example, if Ulo senses movement at night, your Philip Hue lights will switch on. If weather forecasts say its going to rain, Ulo will look grumpy.

Kickstarter backers are expected to receive their Ulo robots this November, while the rest of us will have to wait until early 2017, though you can preorder your owl today.

Ulo costs €199 (around £153/$223). For more information, visit mu-design.lu

5. Segway Robot

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While hoverboards were the must-have toy leading up to Christmas last year, there was something of a backlash after cheaper models started exploding, and the two-wheeled rides were pulled from stores. But Segway is confident it can bring the hoverboard back by turning it into a robot.

Like the other robo-butlers here, the Segway Robot can take photos and videos and can communicate with your smart home. Running on Android, the idea is that developers will create apps for the robot and, like Buddy, you can also buy customisable attachments, including a pair of arms that look like they were taken from an oversized Lego mini figure.

Unfortunately, you can’t ride your robot and talk to it at the same time as its head has to fold away in order for you to stand on it. But you can use the robot outside, commanding it to follow you and it’ll use its Intel RealSense 3D-mapping cameras to map it surroundings, avoid objects and track you.

The Segway Robot Developer Edition launches this autumn. For more information, visit robot.segway.com.

This article contains extracts from the feature ‘Hi, Robot’ that appeared in Gadget issue 8. Buy the latest issue of Gadget now or download the digital edition.

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