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Companion Robots Are Winning Hearts and Minds at CES 2016

11/01/2016 10:19 GMT | Updated 09/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year have been and gone. The food coma might be slowly lifting, but the January blues are setting in, and the likelihood that we'll be fluent in Spanish and a jogging enthusiast by 2017 looks increasingly slim. A loyal companion would be welcome as we return to the daily grind, and it looks like the robots at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas might have the answer to my prayers.

CES kicked off on the first Wednesday of 2016, and affable androids have been the order of the day at this year's tech fest. Dancing robots, animatronic pets and customer service cyborgs were all in attendance. Robotics is turning out increasingly sophisticated models, but it still has the novelty factor, and most of 2016's robots are more lovable than they are useful.

Take WoWee's robotic dog Chip (Canine Home Intelligent Pet) as a case in point. It claims to have oodles of real personality, and is indeed very sweet, but aside from scuttling around on wheels and fetching his electronic ball, there's not a huge amount he can do. They're higher maintenance for sure, but real canines still have one up on robodogs, especially when Chip comes at $199 a pop.

Pepper the humanoid robot has been around for a while, and this year she was present at CES in her newest incarnation. For $20,000, all four feet of doe-eyed, glossy white plastic will talk to you, read your emotions, sense when you are sad, dance to music and wiggle its bottom.

Gliding along on four wheels covered with a plastic skirt and avoiding obstacles thanks to built-in sensors, Pepper comes complete with a tablet that displays content designed to express her "inner life". But her creators Aldebaran and Softbank still concede that Pepper has no practical purpose - she's just for fun.

It was Intel's hoverboard-cum-robot butler that looked best set to make itself useful. We'll have a better idea of what it can do later in the year when the developer version is released, but we're promised that there'll be practical advantages to the robot's functions.

The device responds to voice commands, and its RealSense 3D camera allows it to move around and report when someone has come into the room. It's also open platform, so anyone can build on it according to their needs. And while we wait for more, its hoverboard body is a great way to get around (and looks much less likely to explode than its predecessors).

But the robot you'll meet soonest will probably be the new model of Double Robotics' Telepresence robot, which is not really a robot at all. Hailed as the future of remote working, the Telepresence device mounts a tablet on wheels and presents your face in real time at sitting and standing heights. Login to FaceTime from the comfort of your own home, tap away at the controls on your computer and send the robot gliding though the office as your virtual self.

Those who have taken the robot for a test drive report feeling oddly self-conscious in their new bionic body, but if your actual body is firmly planted on the sofa and swathed in pyjamas for the duration of the working day, it seems like a small price to pay.

And when the winter afternoons seem longer and darker then ever, turn to Paro. This robotic baby seal is medically proven to warm the cockles of your heart.

It'll be a while until we're rubbing shoulders with Ex Machina-style cyborgs, but companion robots aren't a bad place to start. These not so furry friends are more popular than we might expect, and with android technology advancing fast, they'll only get friendlier.