Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Connected Home Summit in Boston, MA. The conference is new to the Boston tech scene, and was held in conjunction with the Deep Learning Summit, which took place in the ballroom next door. The crossover was appropriate, since so much of what’s happening in the connected home space recently has a great deal to do with advanced applications of machine learning.
The Connected Home Summit covered a variety of topics, from new applications for smart energy monitoring to innovations in the healthcare sector. The trend that fascinated me the most, however, was how we’re rapidly moving towards voice-interactive, personality-based robots to serve as the arbiters of our connected homes. What was just a few years ago the province of comic books and science fiction is now quickly becoming a reality.
J.A.R.V.I.S., from Iron Man, is a sassy AI butler that helps Tony Stark with managing his daily life. These days, Alexa, Siri, Jibo, and other social robots are vying for market share.
Certainly, AI is nothing new. But AI that lives in the home and appears to have a distinct and consistent personality is a rather novel development outside of the entertainment industry. Frank Tobe, analyst and author of the Robotics Report noted back in December of 2015 that consumers could expect 2016 to be a pivotal year for the “social robot”.
There are many ways to look at this development, but I want to focus on the part of it that I think is the most defining; the social part.
Some may already be familiar with Jibo, the “social robot”. The Boston-based company ran a hugely successful IndieGoGo campaign in September of 2014, gaining over 7000 backers and $3.7 million. Later they raised another $25+ million from nine different VC firms and a contingent of Angels as well.
What makes Jibo special is that it has character. It doesn’t just take pictures and answer questions; it’s cute. Adorable, really.
As someone that considers themselves an early adopter and huge proponent of home automation (and someone that has not one but two Amazon Echo devices in my own home) I can’t help but look at Jibo and think “that wins.” If, of course, it can live up to the hype, which might be hard to do.
It wins because it has personality. Sculpted, crafted, thought-out personality. Unlike Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and now “Assistant” (what were you thinking, Google marketing people, really), Jibo is not just a generic female voice assistant with the trappings of some in-joke humor tacked on. The Jibo YouTube stream is filled with videos talking about the design-driven focus of the company, the importance of animations and expressions of emotion, the aesthetics of the personality. If they can actually deliver that experience, the unique value proposition is a head above competitors.
Interestingly, this same topic came up during the Intrepid Podcast interview with Robinson Greig, who created a text-based social AI called Ferris. Robinson talked about how users don’t just want to be served up events they can go to, they want a personality to interact with. At one point, Ferris recommended that a user go salsa dancing, and the user declined. Another AI assistant might try and find another event, but not Ferris. Ferris insisted. The user ended up taking the recommendation, and had a great time.
This kind of experience is a shining example of the difference between the business use case and the consumer use case for AI-enabled IoT devices. So much of current IoT is focused on gaining greater efficiencies, but the average consumer still has to put in a pretty significant effort in order to be up to speed on the latest trends in home automation and IoT. To gain these efficiencies, the burden falls on the consumer to research and set up their home automation hubs & devices. This creates a high barrier to entry.
When it comes to the home, people are less interested in great efficiency, and more interested in comfort. That need is where social robots have a clear advantage. Their playful interaction makes them more accessible, more fun, and could be the difference needed to cross the chasm into mass market adoption. Slowly but surely, through great design coupled with emerging tech, IoT in the home is becoming more approachable.
Intrepid is passionate about creating approachable IoT experiences for consumers. In our webinars with Procter & Gamble, we talk about both the technology and design approach needed to create a seamless experience. Check out our webinars on our YouTube channel.
Still confused about the IoT landscape? We created a guide to help explain some of the tech and major players involved in the constantly evolving world of IoT.