Saucer-Shaped ZoZbot Offers New Spin on Robot Gaming

LAS VEGAS — You can get a robot that vacuums your floor, but what about one that plays games? Enter the ZoZbot, a colorful, saucer-shaped robot that can play soccer or billiards, chase your cat or, with custom add-on modules, become a rolling camera or rocket launcher.

Due out this spring, the $149 rolling robot is the first product from startup Cutthroat Robotics, which plans to sell an entire ecosystem of accessories while providing an SDK so developers can build their own.

I had a chance to spend a few minutes controlling the ZoZbot around and came away really impressed with its smooth movement and gorgeous retro design. The device's colorful aesthetic and saucer shape reminds me a lot of 1950s sci-fi designs, including Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet and the alien spaceship from the Day the Earth Stood still. Initially, the Zozbot will come in very bright red or yellow — which also have a retro sci-fi vibe — but it will eventually be available in other colors, including green and purple.

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The device's round base has three wheels that protrude beneath it, allowing you to watch them rotate as it moves around. Above the base is a circular tower, with a removable clear dome on it and a set of flashing lights beneath the cover. Users will be able to add expansion modules —round plastic discs with their own set of pins — to the bottom or the top section under the dome. You can also put an action figure under the dome and take it for a ride.

Using an Android app that connects to the device via Bluetooth LE, I drove the ZoZbot around a wooden table filled with rubber balls, walls to bounce them off of, and goal markers. The robot was incredibly responsive to the phone's accelerometer. It rolled forward when I titled the handset down and got faster as I tilted it further. Titling backward put it into reverse and moving the phone side to side turned the robot. Hitting a button in the app caused the device to turn around 180 degrees on its access. I was particularly impressed not only with its speed and agility but also with the way its wheels — which look like rugged tires — moved so smoothly over the wood surface.

After it comes out, you'll be able to do a lot more with the ZoZbot than just move it around. Cutthroat Robotics Founder and CEO Ken Miller said that users will be able to program the robot either using the app or, if they're developers, with an SDK. Hardware developers will even be able to build their own expansion modules.

Cutthroat also plans to sell the parts to build your own gaming table, complete with walls and gates to knock a ball through (ala mini golf). Miller said the company would also provide instructions on how to build your own table. He envisions users playing table games competitively with ZoZbot, even when one player is remote and operating the device over the Internet.

Time will tell whether the ZoZbot sparks a line of related products, has modest success or fizzles. However, the device's sci-fi-esque design and responsiveness make it so fun it's hard to resist. CutThroat is accepting pre-orders for its robot on Indiegogo, with the first 1,000 backers able to purchase a ZoZbot for $100, a discount off of the $149.99 regular price. The first units should ship in May.

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