Hands-on review: Ebo Air smart home companion robot
Image credit: Enabot
Lonely at home? Lonely pets at home? Perhaps a chirpy companion robot might cheer everyone up.
Ebo Air from Enabot is pitched as a "family companion robot", a mobile, self-charging, family-friendly robotic companion, designed to help people connect with loved ones at all times, from any location.
Of course, we can already connect with our loved ones via the medium of telephone, message or video chat, but what this little robotic friend will do is propel itself around your home at programmed intervals, chattering away to itself, filming and taking photos (saving either to its 16GB external memory or a card up to 256GB), entertaining pets and children as it goes, monitoring your home for unknown intruders, and generally being a helpful little soul.
In its core functionality, Ebo Air is reminiscent of Kuri, the home companion robot created by Mayfield Robotics, whose cute appeal famously stole the show at CES 2017 and again at CES 2018, before being abruptly terminated by parent company Bosch later that year.
Kuri stood a little under 3ft tall, making Ebo Air more like a pet for Kuri (if she still existed), at least in size and stature: Ebo Air is approximately the size of a small grapefruit or an oversized cricket ball. It won't dominate the home, but you might want to keep an eye out for it as you walk around so you don't accidentally stand on it.
In fact, you get a set of silicon 'feathers' in the box, which attach to the top of Ebo Air's head, giving it a sporty, customised look, but which also act as a clear visual signifier (and plaything for curious cats). Ebo Air also has two black racing stripes on its white body and a spoiler at the rear, further enhancing its thoroughly modern, go-getter, home robot image.
The AI smarts onboard mean Ebo Air should be able to learn to recognise and identify known people and pets and automatically record, track and follow them around the house, burbling away, thus chirpily fulfilling the companion side of its brief.
Ebo Air certainly does have its charms and it helpfully fills in for those times when either you're too busy/lazy to amuse your cat/dog/child (a laser pointer is onboard, which projects a few inches in front of the device) or you're physically away from the home. You can view the activity in your home either from the sofa or from a remote location via the Enabot app on your phone, with a good-quality video picture captured by Ebo Air's built-in 1080p HD camera, with two-way microphones and speakers for conversation.
You can, for example (and for the lols), drive Ebo Air around your home using the app's touchscreen controls and when you encounter a fellow inhabitant – be it human or animal – freak them out by speaking to them (or just make strange noises) through Ebo Air's speakers. Ebo Air also regularly emits an excited little cheer for itself ("Eboooo!"), so it's very rarely entirely silent. The volume of this can be controlled from the app, mercifully.
Incidentally, we keep referring to Ebo Air as "it", but the voice sounds more female than male. There's no way, at present, to select alternative voices like you can with some satnavs, for example. There is some personality, though; it's not just one monosyllabic robotic voice for everything.
Ebo Air gets around on a set of brushless motorised wheels (whisper-quiet in operation) with tank-style rubber tracks to help it navigate uneven terrain, e.g. rugs, carpets, metal door-strips and so on. It can't climb and even a slightly larger-than-usual height difference at the threshold between rooms can cause EA to tip, although it is also reasonably effective at righting itself. Part of the tumbler design was to ensure that EA wouldn't get stranded on its back like a beetle, its wheels rolling in the air. When it encounters a wall, closed door or skirting board, it turns itself around and heads off in a new direction, much like a robotic vacuum cleaner.
You have to download and register with the Enabot app first or there is absolutely nothing you can do with Ebo Air: it has no out-of-the-box functionality independent of the app. You can't just play with it, like a toy. This isn't necessarily a big deal, although we did experience some issues with getting the necessary verification code back from the Enabot server that would enable us to complete the setup procedure. We tried several email addresses, from different domains, but got nothing back. Finally, we tried yet another email address – and that one worked instantly. There was no explanation as to what the issue was with the other email addresses. Not exactly a seamless experience, but Enabot customer service were very helpful after the fact.
Once you're in the app, you connect Ebo Air to your local Wi-Fi network (either 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz Wi-Fi network frequency bands) and scan a QR code using Ebo Air's camera. You can also choose to set up cloud connection for uploading photos and videos and to access Ebo Air remotely. If you want this functionality, you have to give the app permission to use the microphone, your camera, your photo library, your location and your home network. If you'd rather not go this far, you don't have to; Ebo Air will still work well simply as a local robotic plaything in your home. Just be aware that the home security monitoring aspect and remote access does require the cloud and all your details to work effectively.
If the security aspect is of interest to you, it's worth knowing that Ebo Air offers 24-hour video recording, motion detection and infra-red night vision. Given its diminutive size, Ebo Air can travel all over your home like a mobile CCTV system, monitoring every nook and cranny. At least, it can travel all over one floor of your home: Ebo Air doesn't do stairs. Saying that, it has been equipped with a three-sided 'ToF' (time of flight) sensor to recognise a significant drop when it comes to one, so stairs shouldn't present a make-or-break situation. Ebo Air could thus be used on any floor of your home for security patrols. The AI aspect of Ebo Air also means that if it detects unknown objects or people in the home, the system can automatically notify you of this via the app.
We've also found it easy to move Ebo Air between homes, which we were wondering about when we first began testing. We simply reset Ebo Air via the button on the base and ran through the set-up process again at the next address. So far, we've tested it in three different locations, with a variety of animals and people.
Results have varied. All of the humans loved it; some of the animals, not so much. The various cats who met it were either mildly curious, wholly indifferent or flat-out terrified – especially at night in darker rooms, when Ebo Air's pulsing lights and red laser pointer didn't endear it to them. The more time our test cats spent with Ebo Air in the home, the more accepting they became of it, although the pet-entertainment side of things is probably not enough to justify purchase on its own. The appeal of Ebo Air is in the whole package.
That said, if you are concerned about your pet being alone at home during the day, Ebo Air's regular scheduled rollabouts could at least provide some distraction and entertainment for cats, dogs, house rabbits and the like. There are five pet options, which feature Ebo Air doing various spins, turns and other movements for their amusement. There are no detachable bits that a pet could eat or break (other than those optional, removable feathers) and Ebo Air is really too big for any pet (or child) to swallow, so it should be perfectly safe to leave it to its own free-roaming devices.
It's absolutely charming when Ebo Air tells you "I'm going home to charge now" when the battery is getting low, and then navigates its way back autonomously to the charging dock, performing the necessary manoeuvres on arrival to successfully mount the slight ramp. We never got tired of watching that. A full recharge only takes an hour or so. Runtime is a couple of hours, but it's unlikely that you'll ever run it continuously for that long. Any time you're done playing with it, you can send it back to the charging dock via the app, so it's always topped up.
You can also schedule messages for Ebo Air and it will come and remind you when the time arrives. That's also quite charming. There are around a dozen preprogrammed options ("Get up", "Go to bed", "Drink water"), although sadly you can't create bespoke messages for Ebo Air to deliver (at least, not yet).
This highlights the limitations of Ebo Air: what you see is what you get. It does a lot of things, and they're mostly effective and fun, but you can't interact with Ebo Air in the same way as you can with even Siri or Alexa. You can't talk to it and elicit a nuanced response, so while Ebo Air does provide companionship of sorts, it's not really a fully fledged companion robot.
There are also some slightly clunky messages in the documentation and app (e.g. "Your EBO is connected to the Wi-Fi network. Before you rebind with EBO, please reset the EBO firstly.") which could be easily smoothed out. Perhaps this will be done in a future software update.
Still, there's a lot to like about Ebo Air. It's not perfect, but it's an interesting move to have a smart little home robot that (a) doesn't look like the typical home robot and (b) isn't the size of a small child. Ebo Air can easily fit into any home, be it a mansion or a maisonette.
It's not exactly cheap, but at the same time it is reasonably good value for money considering the range of functions it offers. If you have pets and people at home, if you'd like to check in on them and your property while you're away, if you enjoy friendly techno-gadgets with a degree of personality, and if you'd just like to have another 'presence' in your home to keep you company, that will talk to you and make you smile, Ebo Air ticks all those boxes.
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