Do you need a companion robot? These are the ones that tell jokes, remind you to take your medication, or allow you to communicate with family members who can’t drop in regularly. They don’t exactly replace human interaction, but rather facilitate it, with a friendly, non-threatening face that doesn’t trigger that uncanny valley feeling of revulsion or unease.
I'm not entirely sure I need or want one. With a full house I'm usually trying to find time away from everyone rather than adding more people who demand my attention. But the Enabot Ebo Air has its uses.
Thankfully devoid of humanoid features, the Ebo Air looks more like a Sphero, but with added tracks on the bottom to help it move around. It also has a small display that flashes up heart icons, a wifi symbol or a photo icon.
If you have pets, for example, or children, the robot will be both entertainment and a way to stay in touch. And the company is billing it as a mobile security camera, complete with night vision and high-definition recording to its on-board micro SD card that you can steer around the house, presumably in search of intruders, while you are out of the house or even out of the country thanks to its wifi connection.
It does all this through the mobile app, which acts as a viewfinder for Ebo’s on-board camera, and allows you to communicate with people or pets in your home.
If you are a lockdown pet owner it is one way for you to keep a close watch on your pet if you suddenly find yourself returning to the office. Obviously it’s not a complete solution for those who are going to be out for eight hours at a time, but you can peek in every now and again or play with your pet while you are away. The dedicated pet mode means Ebo will roll out at regular intervals to play with your pet, tearing around the house with accompanying cute sound effects.
As we don’t have any pets – apart from the fish, who are not Ebo’s target market – it mostly served as a companion for my children. After an initial period of suspicion, they found its antics hilarious and christened it “Bebop”.
Most young children don’t have a very big attention span, unless you dangle a YouTube series of videos of other people unwrapping toys in front of them, so I wasn’t too sure how long Ebo would keep them occupied. I was pleasantly surprised. I used the pet settings, including the laser pointer feature I assume is meant for cats, to keep them occupied. While Ebo tore around our living room, spinning itself around in circles, they found it hilarious for far longer than I thought it would.
It was also fun to roll Ebo out while I was elsewhere in the house to surprise a four-year-old trying to sneakily raid the biscuits. Because it’s relatively silent, the robot could sneak up on him and surprise him. Plus I could record the footage, which was better quality than I thought it would be, for future use.
Ebo can also track subjects, recognising humans and pets, and following whichever one you select.
When Ebo runs low on power it will take itself back to the dock, muttering “I’m going home to charge” as it goes. When it can’t reach the dock, like all good robots it will alert you through the mobile app and you can solve the problem. Sometimes that is easier said than done, especially with the aforementioned four-year-old who has a mischievous streak a mile wide.
Places I have found Ebo include random toyboxes in the playroom, a school backpack hung on the back of the door, under the sofa cushions in the living room, and once, memorably, in the fridge beside the milk. I swear the small heart shone with gratitude when I rescued it from that one.
Pet entertainer, child companion, and security camera: the Ebo Air has a few uses. Strange notification from your alarm’s app? Not sure if you unplugged the iron? Positive you left the oven on? Send the robot off to have a look. This, of course, works best in two scenarios: one, that your home is either open plan or you leave your doors open when you are out of the house; and, second, that Ebo is on the correct floor already because, like most robots, it doesn’t tackle stairs well.
It’s robust too, and will use its sensors to avoid smashing into obstacles in your home.
The not so good:
You can have video calls with your loved ones but they are one-sided as there is no way for them to see you. Although it found its way out of most situations thanks to the ball shape, when it was on its own security patrols it occasionally got stuck or lost its way home. When it did this it triggered the alert “Ebo got lost and could not find the charging pile”. This was one of the easier to decipher alerts.
The microSD card is included, but the device can support up to 256GB of extra storage space.
A fun novelty, but not essential.