Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Asus' Zenbo home robot demonstrates during the annual Computex computer exhibition in Taipei Image Credit: Reuters

The Taiwanese electronics manufacture Asus has unveiled a home robot called Zenbo that can talk, control your home and provide assistance when needed — all for the cost of a top-end smartphone.

The $599 (about Dh2,199) robot rolls around on two wheels in the shape of a vacuum cleaner ball with cameras, an oblong head extruding from the top with a colour touchscreen displaying a face with emotions. It is capable of independent movement, can respond to voice commands and has both entertainment protocols for keeping kids amused and home care systems to help look after older people.

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.”

Zenbo will remind older people of doctor’s appointments or medication schedules, and will monitor the home for emergency situations such as falls. If it detects a problem, it will notify carers and allow them to pilot the robot remotely, using the camera to inspect the area.

Asus hopes that children will take to the robot, which can sing, dance, tell stories and play games, while controlling the surrounding environment, including the lights, for a bit more novelty. For adults, Asus is pitching Zenbo as a moving Amazon Echo or Google Home competitor, capable of taking control of various internet of things devices, from televisions to thermostats. In a demonstration with Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s new president, Zenbo recognised a command for music and started playing, even over the sounds of an exhibition crowd.

Voice control is the new AI butler

The voice-controlled home assistant market is growing, with Amazon’s Echo making waves and Google’s recent foray with Home. But most attempts are based around a fixed speaker that sits in the home and can be shouted at by owners.

Only SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which is currently available in Japan costing 198,000 yen (about Dh6,550), is close to what Asus is looking to offer, with articulated arms, cameras and sensors in a head and a screen on its chest.

Whether anyone will buy a general purpose robot that cannot physically help with tasks around the home, only through voice and sound interactions, remains to be seen. For Asus and other electronics manufacturers, in-home robots are still an experiment.

If they can capture the same enthusiasm for interaction and usefulness to home owners as Amazon’s Echo, they could find success. Like any other product, these robots need a reason to exist to avoid becoming expensive novelty toys.

— Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2016