A robot with a unique personality might sound like an oxymoron. Or science fiction. But that’s the goal of London-based startup Emotech, launching on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 today, with a plan to crowdfund its first product, a voice-controlled robot assistant called Olly, early next year.
The bot takes the form of an animated eyeball that is housed in a lamp-shaped cup designed to roll around on your tabletop. So if the thought of a large blinking eyeball that swivels around to look at you when you speak — and talks back — makes you feel at all uneasy, well, this may not be the bot for you.
Emotech insists the look they’re going for is cute, not creepy. The team includes an ex-Dreamworks animator who has worked on movies including Rise of The Guardians and The Croods.
Right now Olly is just a prototype, and the team had some demo troubles with their prototype on stage. But the vision is a “smart lifestyle assistant,” says co-founder Chelsea Chen — one that will have a unique personality, based on the personality of its particular owner. How you interact with Olly, and what your personal interests are, will be used to determine the “tonality” of your bot, she says.
“Based on the AI and the machine learning, we create a special persuading system which [along with the owner] will give Olly special personality,” says Chen. “Your Olly will be different to my Olly. Because your personality is different to mine, and your lifestyle is different.
“For example… I’m quite curious about everything, so my Olly is more pro-active, talks fast and any time when I try to communicate with Olly, Olly always try to give me more information, more options to suggest. But if the person who is more serious, is more logical, all the information Olly will give is not like my very emotional [Olly] but that one will be very data driven.
“Four of us [at Emotech] are super fans of science-fiction movies so in our mind building a robot is the dream — it’s the thing we really want to do,” she adds.
But what exactly will Olly do? As with other voice-commanded, in-home connected devices — or indeed app-based voice assistants like Apple’s Siri — Olly will be able to perform info look-ups such as telling you what the weather is going to be like or providing your wake-up call in the morning.
It will also be able to be used as a hub for controlling multiple smart home devices, so you could ask it to dim your smart lights, say, and put some music on your wireless speakers (or on its own speakers). When it launches, the devices and services it will be able to hook into include Nest, Philips Hue, Fitbit, Pebble, IFTTT, Spotify and various social media services, according to the team.