Sony's tradition of having a strong presence at the annual Consumer Electronics Show has been continued this year, with the company coming to Las Vegas to deliver a wide variety of major announcements and showcase some of its latest and greatest tech, including the Xperia Hello, its first rolling robot assistant designed to be more versatile than a traditional smart speaker while still not requiring a significant level of maintenance. Originally unveiled in October, the Xperia Hello has been retailing in Japan for nearly two months now for the equivalent of $1,300, having established itself as an ultra-premium yet niche offering.
While previously described by some as a smart speaker on wheels, the Xperia Hello offers a lot in an attempt to justify its price tag. Unlike a conventional smart speaker, it's capable of recognizing not just faces but also facial expressions and will adjust its interactions with you in accordance with the feelings it believes you're experiencing, having been programmed to be empathetic without losing focus on its main purpose – serving as a relatively mobile smart home hub. While communicating with the Xperia Hello over a connected smartphone, you can tell it to show you what it "sees" in order to use it as a security camera, or even inquire about the last time it saw other members of your household. Native Skype support is part of the package here, as is a 4.6-inch LCD panel with multi-touch support which can be used for displaying news, weather forecast, sports results, stock prices, and any other info you may want to request from a robotic assistant. Better yet, it will personalize its answers to such general queries for each member of the household once it learns about their preferences and is also capable of adapting if one's interests change over time.
From a mobility standpoint, the Xperia Hello won't excel in any agility drills but is still capable of getting by on its own; its four wheels allow it to roll on a counter, table, windowsill, floor, or any other flat and relatively smooth surface on which it's placed, with Sony's idea being to develop an alternative to filling your house with cheap smart speakers. While that still may be a hard sell for the price equivalent of 13 Amazon Echo Dots and another 13 Google Home Minis, Sony is willing to experiment with the concept, especially as it claims the mobility aspect of the Xperia Hello isn't just meant to make it extra convenient but also more human-like in its attempts to become a member of your family. The robot can rotate in place by 340 degrees and is capable of making some facial expressions of its own through a combination of a tiltable head and adjustable lights illustrating its eyes. Some examples of the Xperia Hello's efforts to mimic human-like behavior include its ability to wink, dance, and act depressed when you tell it to stop following you around.
Beneath the robot's conical surface is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 650 SoC backed by 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal flash memory, with the device seemingly running a heavily modified version of Google's Android operating system. The Xperia Hello also boasts a seven-mic array, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC support, as well as a 2,300mAh battery. Despite showcasing it at CES 2018, Sony has yet to clarify whether its robot is eventually meant to launch in the West and if so – at what price.