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Chinese firm Qihan launches robotics-as-a-service with Sanbot

The dream of a domestic robot that might make our lives easier still feels frustratingly far away. Though we are starting to see some impressively mobile, conversational robots, they aren’t anywhere near the consumer market yet.

Sanbot, from Chinese company Qihan, is a good example. This robot has 3D vision, numerous sensors for collision avoidance, seven microphones, touch sensors for interaction, and it can respond to voice commands. Sanbot can even dance, but sadly you won’t be buying one anytime soon.

Shenzhen-based Qihan is looking to roll out a new robotics-as-a-service model, selling the robots and support to various industries, including health care, education, and security. Sanbot is already in service in China, offering flight information to stressed travelers at the airport, patrolling warehouses as a security guard, providing a telepresence for doctors in patient’s homes, and acting as a fun friend and learning resource for kindergarteners.

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Now Qihan has its sights set on the U.S. and European market. Partners can buy a Sanbot outright for around $5,000, and there are open APIs to enable them to develop new software and functions that take advantage of Sanbot’s potential. However, Qihan is really looking to set up service contracts with a monthly subscription and the Sanbot relies on a cloud-based artificial intelligence platform that enables its face, object, and voice recognition.

You can hook up to the Sanbot via, fittingly, an Android app. There are all sorts of different modes, so you might want to view a live-stream of Sanbot’s cameras, command it to dance, or have it navigate to a specific location (as long as there are no stairs). The 20Ah battery is good for four hours of activity or up to 20 hours of standby and Sanbot can dock and charge itself when it needs to.

The voice recognition still needs work. Sanbot understands Chinese well, and Qihan partnered with companies like Baidu to achieve that, but it’s early days for English comprehension, though Sanbot VP Ryan Wu told us they are working with Google and Amazon to improve it. Sanbot also has a few touch sensors on its body, so you can squeeze its hand, or touch its chest, back, or head and get a relevant response.

People are getting used to voice controlled assistants in their electronics with Google Now, Siri, and Cortana, and we’ve also seen devices like Amazon’s Echo taking off in a big way. Something like the Sanbot could serve the same purpose, except it can also follow you from room to room and guard the house while you’re out.

At the moment it’s not clear what the killer app for Sanbot really is. Did we mention it also has an HD projector built into the back of its head; that it can hook into your smart home setup to control your heating or lights; or that it can sync with a heart rate monitor to display your heart beat on the 10.1-inch, 1080p touchscreen on its chest?

Qihan is packing in functionality and looking for partners to identify and develop potential use cases, hence the laundry list of sensors that are inside. It’s definitely a lot of fun and the expressive eyes are cute, but it’s far from perfect and it’s very expensive. Still, without companies like Qihan exploring what robotics might do for us, we’ll never get those domestic robots in our homes.