This Little Robot Wants to Be Your Best Friend
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We’ve long known there’s a market out there for robotic buddies. One compelling piece of evidence: The original Furby sold more than 40 million units, and it didn’t really do anything.
17 years later, an A.I. and machine-learning company is making a robot pal that will do way more than its fuzzy predecessor. It’s called Musio, and it houses a pretty impressive A.I. engine developed by a company called AKA.
The robot remembers details from prior conversations, asks follow-up questions based on that info, and can be used as a smart-home controller. But its main goal is to be your friend: Asking you questions, actually listening to your answers, and learning what you’re all about.
Using add-on packs, developers can program the robot with Arduino-compatible boards, accelerometers, and Zigbee modules. There are also packs that are designed to help kids with reading, vocabulary, and conversational skills.
Musio (which, for the record, is not a mobile bot) is just one product built around the software at the heart of it, an A.I. engine called Muse. AKA first developed Muse as an electronic English tutor, and Muse is also being used as a learning engine to drive editing software and TOEFL-prep products. The Musio robot is the first product in the company’s lineup aimed at the U.S. market, and AKA says the robot’s capabilities are going to to grow over time.
Right now, Musio has a few features in its working prototype form. Unlike phone-based voice assistants like Siri and Cortana, it acts like a being unto itself—it asks as many questions as it answers. Then, based on your responses, Musio can retain information from one user, remember your preferences, and relay that information on to other users. It can be used as a Siri-like personal assistant to look up information on the Web and send voice-dictated emails, but it also inserts itself into conversations.
For example, the robot may ask what your favorite sports team or food is, then bring that information up in subsequent conversations. If more than one person uses Musio, the robot can mention what other users’ favorite things are in an effort to converse more naturally.
According to Celina Lee, AKA’s director of business development, the system is designed to improve a child’s emotional intelligence along with their conversational skills. English is the only supported language for the system at the moment, but the team may work on other versions of the robot if the first-generation model is a success.
There are three “levels” of Musio to choose from, and the two top-tier models are loaded with connectivity options that let you use the robot as a hub for home controls. A $300 “Smart” version and a $600 “Genius” version each run Android 5.0, control Zigbee devices, and have WiFi and Bluetooth LE connectivity. The “Smart” model has a 1.2GHz quad-core processor, a 2200mAh battery, and 16GB of storage on board, while the “Genius” model ramps it up to 2.5GHz quad-core, 3000mAh, and 64GB. There’s also a $100 “Simple” version that just talks to you without all those connectivity options.
Some other features are already in the works, according to AKA. Future generations of Musio are expected to use a camera and facial-recognition tech to identify and address different people in front of it. There’s also a little scanning/pointing sidekick—a seal-shaped remote called Sophy—that can be used to scan special books and identify objects for Musio to interact with. Different outfits for the robot are planned, and you can swap out the color of its hands with magnetic marshmallow-like nubs.
During a demo, Musio’s voice-recognition and conversational abilities worked well—although those things always tend to go well in company-controlled demos. The voice needs work, and the AKA team says they’re still figuring out what the final version of it will be. Lee says the company is hoping to hire a voice actor to pinpoint the ultimate voice for Musio—a crucial piece of the puzzle for something that’s going to be asking you a ton of questions.
It’s also very much a work in progress, as the project just launched on Indiegogo. The company plans to manufacture and ship the first-generation robot by June of next year, so you can keep your real-world friends until then.Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.