New York startup Robotbase is turning to Kickstarter to build a highly ambitious robot that would serve as a smart personal assistant for your home. Referred to simply as "Personal Robot," this device is set to combine image recognition, natural language comprehension and other advances in artificial intelligence into a single device that can converse with you, serve as a personal stylist, and even tell bedtime stories to your kids.
The very best that artificial intelligence has to offer today are so-called narrow AIs, complex algorithms that can compete with or even outperform humans in a highly specialized field, but whose smarts cannot translate to other arenas. When Deep Blue’s narrow AI beat reigning chess world champion Garry Kasparov back in 1997, some took it to mean that an artificial general intelligence, an eclectic AI that can think and adapt like a human brain, was close at hand. Eighteen years later, we’re still waiting.
The holy grail of a truly eclectic artificial intelligence has been elusive so far and may still be very far off. However, over the past two decades, the combination of better hardware and better software is making it possible to create much more sophisticated narrow AIs that can rival humans in more and more complex fields, from recognizing objects from a picture to driving and even (tentatively) understanding human language.
With its "Personal Robot," Robotbase is attempting to combine several advanced narrow AIs into one smart assistant. By putting together algorithms for facial, emotion and object recognition, as well as systems to understand human language and answer questions through Wolfram Alpha, it is creating a personal assistant that doubles as a photographer, storyteller, telepresence device and home automation system.
According to its creators, Personal Robot will allow you to control all your connected devices via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and Wireless Z-Wave Plus. Just like with your smartphone, you’ll be able to get quick answers about weather, news and sport scores, as well as playing music, setting alarms, scheduling meetings and ordering food, among other things.
One of the things that sets this apart from being just a Siri for your home, however, is the emphasis on home automation. The robot’s sensor array includes 3D depth cameras, temperature, humidity, light and pressure sensors and even a CO2 meter. It is mounted on a wheelbase with servos, free to more about on its own, and will build a map of the house on its own so that, while you’re away, it can send you updates and even stream live video feeds from any room to enhance home security.
Like the Jibo, the Personal Robot also aims to be a storyteller for your child and a smart photographer that can recognize moods and facial expressions, but adds to that the ability to walk you step by step through a new recipe in the kitchen or even serve as a personal stylist.
The robot boasts proprietary natural language processing algorithms that can "understand what you say and know what you mean." Judging from the product’s Kickstarter page, the vision is to create a robot that can understand the intricacies of language and facial expressions by multiple people, even from meters away, and seamlessly and proactively interject with appropriate facial expressions, a rich voice tonality, and data which is relevant to the discussion at hand. Since this is an extremely challenging task from a technical standpoint, it will be interesting to see how this highly ambitious Personal Robot delivers on its promise.
Early adopters will have the option to access the robot’s software development kit for Android, allowing developers to build their own apps that will be sold on a dedicated virtual store later this year.
The original crowdfunding goal of US$50,000 has already been met with three days left before the end of the campaign. You can pledge US$995 for your own Personal Robot ($1,000 off the retail price), with an extra $200 for shipping outside of the US. If everything goes according to plan, delivery of the Personal Robot will be completed by December this year.
The crowdfunding video below illustrates the vision of the robot in action.