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Innovation

I saw Samsung's Ballie robot assistant at CES, and it actually seems helpful

This bowling ball-sized robot will be able to double as a projector, smart home hub, and more.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Ballie
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

Seeing Ballie's demo live at CES felt like watching your favorite artist in concert with general admission seats, with a huddle of people crowding around the stage to see the circular robot in action. After seeing Ballie take the stage, I am glad I was one of those people. 

Samsung initially unveiled its smart home assistant, Ballie, in 2020. Facing the massive worldwide interest in AI, Samsung decided to reintroduce an upgraded version of Ballie at CES, which has evolved into an AI companion robot for the home. 

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Ballie kept the same look and movement as the original version, a cute, little round rolling robot. The Samsung in-person demo and the teaser video both showed a yellow Ballie, but I also saw a white version on display at the event. 

Despite it looking the same as 2020 Ballie, the tasks it can complete have broadened.

Samsung said that the robot's "advanced AI" allows it to assist you throughout your home and complete tasks such as greeting you at the door and following you around the house. 

As it rolls around the house, Ballie is able to control all of your IoT devices, and it can actually help make sure that everything is running smoothly, managing temperature, lights, laundry machines, and more. 

A major upgrade from the original is that Ballie functions as a two-in-one switchable projector. The projector can display anything when prompted, including recipe videos, a view inside of your oven or fridge, your calendar, a video call, or even a workout routine. 

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The on-stage demo showed someone going through their day and the different ways that Ballie could be of assistance. To begin their day, Ballie showed the person their calendar, reminded them of their anniversary, and made a call to the florist. 

Then Ballie helped the individual make dinner, projecting recipes on the wall and the view of the oven and panning to the front door camera when the flower delivery arrived. 

Because Ballie's projector can automatically detect a person's posture and facial angle to adjust the projection angle, the first of its kind according to Samsung, Ballie was also able to project a workout video onto the ceiling as the person reclined on the floor to do some crunches. 

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The online video Samsung released of Ballie showcased it acting as a pet monitor, where it sends video of the dog to its parent and then entertains the dog by projecting video and even prompts the dog feeder to release food. 

That feature reminds me of a CES Award-winning robot I saw this week called the Oro robot, which acts like a pet babysitter, performing similar activities to Ballie, including feeding, recording, and playing music for your dog. 

Ballie can, therefore, replace several pieces of smart equipment from your home, including a projector, a smart home hub, a dog robot, home monitoring cameras, and more, all in one basketball-sized robot. 

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Although the price point and release date were not disclosed, Samsung VP Kang-il Chung disclosed that the company is planning to release Ballie in 2024 in an interview with The Washington Post. 

Of course, in tech launch time, a year release date may mean it will be much longer before it hits the market, but it could be a good indicator that the concept of robot assistants in homes is coming sooner than you think. 

The demo gave me a tangible idea of how helpful a robot house assistant could be and what a serious attempt at making a robot assistant without being overly ambitious could look like. 

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