Panasonic has become the latest tech company to jump on the companion robot bandwagon, with an as-yet-unnamed proof of concept unveiled at CES 2017.
The robot is able to chat with its owner, display video and images using its built-in projector and, in future updates, will even be capable of playing games. Equipped with wheels, it is designed to sit on a desktop, and transitions from an egg shape when off to something that looks straight out of WALL-E.
However, it does have one serious downside: it’s been equipped with a voice that’s more annoying than the token cute character in a JRPG, surpassing even SoftBank’s Pepper with its saccharine tone.
Panasonic, however, seems to think it’s actually going to make people like it more.
“The robot’s child-like voice adds to the realism,” the company said in a press release about the bot. “Its voice and embedded projector work together to deliver natural communication that builds a sense of attachment with its human owner.”
Away from the irritating voice, however, the robot is intended more as a showcase of the tech giant’s network technologies, as the robot relies on cloud data to access its natural language processing abilities and resulting communication skills.
As a result, it’s unlikely to become a commercially available product in its current form, but instead looks set to be a precursor to a more sophisticated consumer-ready model.
“This test project builds on Panasonic’s innovations in robotics including battery and power solutions, vision and sensing, navigation solutions and motion control in a new appealing design,” explained Takahiro Iijima, director of Panasonic’s Design Strategy Office in North America.
“This is Panasonic’s latest effort in demonstrating network services in a friendly package, and we are showing this robot at CES as a way of obtaining feedback on its features and functions.”
Despite the growing number of companion robots being offered, it’s not yet clear how exactly they are going to fit into our lives.
Panasonic has suggested that its robot could be used to support distance learning, but that is a use that is only going to appeal to a relatively small number of people.
Clearly the core goal of this type of bot will be to provide companionship, but to do so the robots are going to need to offer a greater range of personalities than is currently the case. A breathlessly cute voice might appeal if you’re a fan of sharing hordes of minion memes on Facebook, but for many of us it’s likely to prove just too annoying to bear.