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Asus wheels out Zenbo, a cute home robot that seems too good to be true

Having already unveiled a slew of new Asus laptops and smartphones, and clearly enjoying every second of his Computex 2016 keynote, charismatic chairman Jonney Shih closed Monday’s proceedings by dancing on stage with a robot.

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A bit like SoftBank’s Pepper bot, but without the arms and legs, Zenbo is a multi-functional machine designed for the family home. Standing at little more than 60 centimeters and moving around on wheels, the diminutive robot has two main parts – a spherical base a little larger than a basketball, and a “head” comprising a digital display with enough space for Zenbo’s massive blinking eyes. It’s happy to chat in English, too.

The robot’s raisons d’être, apart from to make Asus a shed load of money, is to provide “assistance, entertainment, and companionship” for all members of the family. So, in an entertaining though indisputably offbeat short movie (above) touting Zenbo’s features, we see the bot trundle up to Mom to remind her she has a family photo shoot at 5pm. This sends her into a bit of a panic as she needs to make dinner first. We then see Zenbo reading out a paella recipe, with Mom able to ask for individual instructions as she goes.

In another scene, the seemingly omnipresent robot turns up beside Grandpa to tell him to take his medication. Zenbo’s face also transforms into a tablet touchscreen, and in the movie allows Grandpa to take instructions from his grandson on how to order some clothes online. And so it goes on.

Zenbo sort of does, well, everything. Aside from the above, it can also entertain the kids, play music, take photos, and receive and make calls. It can link with smart devices, too, turning every appliance in the house on and off, unlocking doors, and controlling the air conditioner. You probably wouldn’t want to be under the same roof if it ever short-circuited.

Jonney clearly believes Asus is on to something with Zenbo. “Together we can make the robot of your dreams a reality,” the chairman shouted to a bemused audience of tech reporters who were still recovering from watching him jig about the stage to dance music. It wasn’t quite Steve Ballmer, but you get the picture. Not to be upstaged, Zenbo, too, pulled a few moves, though having only wheels it was rather limited in its ability to impress.

Zenbo will cost just $600 when it launches, though Jonney, possibly still getting over his enthusiastic disco dance, forgot offer a date for when that might happen. We’re pretty sure we haven’t heard the last of Zenbo. Certainly not if Jonney has anything to do with it.

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