ASUS' Zenbo robot walks, talks and controls your home

Zenbo the $599 robot is cute, but will it do enough?

ASUS chairman Jonney Shih took to the stage at Computex today to announce something a little different, if completely on trend: a home robot. "Our ambition is to enable robotic computing for every household," he said before revealing Zenbo the home robot. With the goals of "assistance, entertainment and companionship," it's aimed at older people in particular. However, the most interesting feature here is the promise that the robot will connect with traditional and smart home devices. You'll be able to check who's at the door from a connected camera, and then remote-unlock the door from the robot's, er, face. Zenbo will also be able to connect to lights, TVs and air conditioners -- if it speaks your langauge, that is.

The robot can roam around independently, and take directions by voice command. ZenBo's face also acts as a touchpad interface. You'll be able to place video calls, shop online, as well as stream video content, when it's not blushing.

It's still early days, but ASUS says Zenbo will offer spoken reminders to its owners, like doctor appointment and medication cues. It'll also be able to send emergency messages to family members if someone falls down — you can even take control of the robot and check the situation from Zenbo's built-in camera. For kids, the robot will be able to (awkwardly, robotically) dance along to music as well as read stories aloud from its built-in library. Naturally, ASUS is promoting a Zenbo developer program, with access to the bot's SDK and more information to help birth apps -- something very important if the robot is to be a success.

It will be inevitably compared to Softbank's Pepper home robot, and there are indeed a few similarities, but if ASUS can learn one major lesson from its taller Japanese rival, it's that a device like this needs a reason to exist. It could be those smart home tricks that make or break Zenbo. Although that $599 price is pretty cheap for a home robot, that will certainly help.

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