Skolkovo resident Promobot, famed for its friendly robots that have been known to escape, unveiled its third generation model at the Open Innovations forum held at the Skolkovo Technopark on Wednesday. Version 3 is as flirty as its predecessors - but now includes a female bot.

Zhenya scans Yuzhakov's passport while her male counterpart smiles at a blonde in the front row. Photo:

A day before the new Promobot was presented to the public, the Russian startup announced it had attracted 150 million rubles ($2.4 million) in investment from the Internet Initiatives Development Fund, with Kommersant newspaper reporting that state banking giant Sberbank is prepared to invest the same amount.

“We really believe in robots and artificial intelligence,” said Alexei Yuzhakov, founder of Promobot, presenting the new version. 

Comparing robots to aeroplanes, which may no longer cause people to gasp in amazement when boarding them but are nonetheless highly valued for their use, Yuzhakov said the aim of the presentation show was not to produce the “wow effect,” but to demonstrate their practical use.

But the first robot - a male - proceeded to wow the audience anyway, performing a dance that at one point involved it moonwalking to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” before its big blue eyes turned into red hearts as it stopped in front of a young woman sitting in the front row. The robot extended its hand and danced with the woman briefly, before finishing the show by rolling over to its creator Yuzhakov, shaking his hand and saying “hi.”

As so often among humans, the practical work was left to the female model, Zhenya. 

She demonstrated a range of the Promobot’s applications, from giving people directions in crowded places such as airports, providing information on bank loans in banks, showing customers in shops the range of goods on offer and allowing them to pay for them by card, and registering people at public events such as conferences. All interactions were peppered with Promobot’s trademark flirting and joking. “Sure, good-looking,” followed by a wink, is one of Zhenya’s replies, though the robot can be instructed to be more serious, depending on the business’s needs.  

Promobot's teaser campaign for the new model. Photo: Promobot.

“It’s not about wow, it’s about improving business efficiency. It’s a tool that will bring your company money,” said Yuzhakov. 

A video documented the development of the startup, which was founded in the Urals city of Perm. The audience watched the progression from the first version, made quite literally in a garage in 2013, to its second version in 2015, shortly after Promobot became a resident startup of the Skolkovo Foundation. 

“In 2015 we became residents of the Skolkovo Robocentre; that was very important for us,” said Yuzhakov. The company has now sold more than 100 robots to countries including the U.S., China, the U.K., Ireland and Kazakhstan, he said. 

Promobot developed version 3 over the last year, he said. The new model is taller, and can operate for more than eight hours before it needs recharging. When it does need recharging, it will go and charge itself. Its voice and face recognition platforms have been upgraded, and it is equipped with a navigation system that means it won’t bump into other robots — or people. 

A new Promobot app allows robot owners to see where their bots are at any moment, and to get data on how many people they have interacted with. They can be controlled remotely via a smartphone, allowing owners to see how effective the robots have been for their business, said Yuzhakov, whom GQ magazine named one of the 150 most influential people in Russia earlier this year.