Sharp's Robohon is a cute little robot that doubles as a phone

But is it really practical?

sharp robohon
Sharp's RoboHon on show at Ceatec in Japan on Oct. 6, 2015. Credit: Martyn Williams

From the country that brought you pretty much every crazy robot you’ve ever seen, Sharp on Tuesday showed off a prototype robot that doubles as a smartphone—or is that a smartphone in the form of a robot? It’s not entirely clear, but it is cute.

The robot, called RoboHon (a mix of the words robot and phone), will go on sale in Japan in the first half of 2016. It stands just under 20 centimeters high and packs a camera, projector and, on its back, an LCD screen. Of course, there’s also the mic, speaker and a facial and voice recognition system.

sharp robohon Martyn Williams

Sharp’s RoboHon on show at Ceatec in Japan on Oct. 6, 2015.

In a demonstration on Tuesday at the Ceatec electronics show just outside of Tokyo, the robot responded to instructions to place a call to a person, take a picture, display the picture through the projector and do a dance.

Sharp RoboHon Martyn Williams

A person interacts with Sharp’s RoboHon during a news conference in Japan on Oct. 6, 2015.

“Hey, there’s a call for you,” it said to its owner in a promotional video, which included other examples of the interaction it can accomplish.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it,” a person said to the robot while looking at a sunset.

“Yes, it’s beautiful,” replied the robot.

It’s unclear if the robot was actually analyzing the scene and would be capable of disagreeing with its owner. Probably not, as that would be pretty sophisticated artificial intelligence.

Sharp also demonstrated it sitting in the top pocket of a jacket—a great position to converse with its owner but something that is probably unlikely in real life.

Sharp RoboHon Martyn Williams

Sharp’s RoboHon is seen in a jacket pocket during a news conference in Japan on Oct. 6, 2015.

But then, not much about the robot is really practical.

Sure, you can hold it to your face and use it like a phone—something that makes you look a cross between cute and goofy.

“Practicality means a lot of different ways,” said Tomotaka Takahashi, CEO of robot development company RoboGarage, when asked if it was really practical. Takahashi worked with Sharp on the prototype.

“Our smartphone is practical, most of the use is for fun, but we treat it as practical. I think RoboHon is similar,” he said before affirming that he can imagine using the RoboHon—but not giving up his iPhone either. At least not for a couple of years while the technology improves.

sharp robohon Martyn Williams

Sharp’s RoboHon on show at Ceatec in Japan on Oct. 6, 2015.

Sharp says it plans to release more information about the robot closer to its launch date in 2016.

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