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.
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.
“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.
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 says it plans to release more information about the robot closer to its launch date in 2016.
Martyn Williams produces technology news and product reviews in text and video for PC World, Macworld, and TechHive from his home outside Washington D.C.. He previously worked for IDG News Service as a correspondent in San Francisco and Tokyo and has reported on technology news from across Asia and Europe.