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Don't ask Samsung to say more about its rolling robot assistant

Samsung's adorable smart home control bot is still shrouded in secrecy.

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When we rolled (Ed note: groan) into Samsung's CES keynote address last night, we expected lots of platitudes about the power of AI and the experiences made possible by 5G. We got those, but also something else: Ballie, an adorable, rolling smart home control center that comes off like a mix between BB-8 and Haro from the Gundam series. Needless to say, I fell pretty hard for it.

Even though CES has officially begun and Samsung's booth is packed with curious onlookers now, concrete answers are hard to come by. Yes, it seems to roll around of its own accord and we briefly saw it interacting with a smart air purifier. It's also meant to interact with your task list: As Ballie rolls around and sees people completing chores with its main camera, it'll cross that item off the list. Unfortunately, wouldn't offer any details on potential price points, specifications, or launch window -- the best we heard was that Samsung would move ahead with some sort of launch in the "near future." Helpful, I know.

Still, it's not hard to look at Ballie and imagine a world of potential. Virtual assistants are helpful at controlling your various smart home gizmos, but unless every room in your home is kitted out with smart speakers listening for commands, there will be gaps in that AI-driven experience. By weaving some level of intelligence into a mobile machine that doesn't seem all that intrusive -- Ballie is about the size of a large grapefruit -- Samsung is poised to make sure a smart assistant is never too far away. That's a powerful thing, made even more potent by the fact that Ballie could have something approaching a personality. We couldn't hear it ourselves over the din of the convention center, but the Ballie demo video from last night's keynote suggests it might make some cutesy, R2-D2-esque chirps that elevate it beyond just a fancy Sphero.

I fully expect that Ballie will continue to raise more questions before we get any concrete answers, but one thing does seem pretty clear right now: It's a whole lot better than the total non-starter of a rolling robot-friend LG showed off at a trade show a few years ago.

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