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Sony imagines a screenless future and cute robot friends

The Japanese tech titan's smart-home concepts come with a dose of personality.

Sony's Xperia Agent concept is supposed to be a virtual assistant, but who knows when Sony will ever bring this to market.
Aloysius Low/CNET

Sony wants to put a stop to antisocial screen time.

The Japanese electronics company showed off two concept projects at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday that are designed to bring families together around interactive touchscreens, but minus the actual screens.

Sony unveiled a single Xperia smartphone at the world's biggest mobile trade show this year, but hinted that it has ambitions to expand its Xperia mobile brand to more products. The common denominator among them will be smartphone-level "intelligence", said Hirohito Kondo, Sony's senior manager of user experience and creative platform. If the demos Sony showed off at MWC are anything to go by, the Xperia expansion will start in the home.

Sony's first concept project is the Xperia Projector, a portable module that casts an interactive interface onto any flat surface with the aim of making browsing a more sociable experience.

"We want to provide for family communication," said Kondo. "Sometimes my kids are watching the smartphone and there's no conversation between me, my kids and my mum. We want to solve that."

The Projector has a camera and microphone and can respond to voice, gesture and touch. You can interact with the images it projects much like you would on a touchscreen device. You could, for example, project a clock and family calendar up onto the wall, or browse through photos together on the kitchen table.

The second concept, the Xperia Agent, borrows some of the Projector's technology and bundles it into a cute-as-a-button desktop robot. The Agent is a chirpy personal assistant designed to sit on a table and respond to your voice and gestures. The device can swivel around to face you and project information you've requested onto the table in front of you.

Intended to be a hub for your home or office, the Agent can tell you information, deliver messages, and control home appliances. It's a similar concept to Amazon's Echo, but with a touch more personality.

It should be noted though that while the Amazon Echo is already for sale, Sony's Agent and Projector are just pipe dreams for now. Kondo is correct when he said the Agent is, "cute, it's very very cute." But as a concept, there's no guarantee it will ever reach the shop shelves.