EmoSpark AI Cube Launches Quietly in the UK

Remember EmoSPARK? The artificially and emotionally intelligent cube burst onto the scene last February with a successful Indigogo campaign, raising enough cash through pre-orders to push forward with development. With very little fanfare, EmoSPARK’s PR firm announced that it would be launching the product today at a low key press event in the UK.  By the looks of a few photos on Twitter, the event was small.

Screen shot 2015-04-28 at 7.26.00 PMThe company is positioning EmoSPARK as “the first AI console to detect and respond to human emotions. You can pair the EmoSPARK cube with multiple other devices, including a smartphone app, a specially designed EmoSPARK camera, and a TV. The cube also connects to your home WiFi.

This video demos the process of pairing EmoSPARK with the smartphone app. In an update on Indiegogo posted last month, the Indiegogo team explained the personalization features built into the product. During the initial set up, or “bonding sequence,” the AI console asks the user to share personal details which are stored in the Cube’s “memory cortex.” The AI promises not to look at this information without first getting the user’s permission, not to share the data without permission, and to always have the user’s best interests in mind.

Based on an earlier brief demo of the EmoSPARK AI functions, it strikes me that the device has very similar capabilities to Amazon’s Echo. The user can ask it to retrieve recipes, play music by a specific artist, and answer questions. In the case of the EmoSPARK, though, the pairing to the TV allows the AI to display videos or other images to accompany its responses.

The goals of the EmoSPARK are certainly more ambitious than those of the Amazon Echo. With its camera and AI software, it is designed to recognize faces and facial expressions and intuit emotion. In this respect, the EmoSPARK’s intended features more closely mimic those of Jibo, the social robot that’s still under development.

How will the EmoSPARK fare upon its launch? It will be interesting to hear feedback from the early adopters. My first impression of the device and its broader ecosystem, based solely on limited videos, is that it has tons of potential. On the downside, it may be a little too chatty and it looks somewhat weird. The large eyeball with its continuously dilating pupil is somewhat unnerving (and reminiscent of HAL 9000), but I suppose you could get used to it. It may be a bit more loquacious than desired, but that’s the sort of thing that can be easily refined over time.

The EmoSPARK may come across as somewhat clumsy for now, but remember how unimpressive the video game Pong was when it came out (for those born early enough to remember back that far). Look at video games now. We’ve come a long way! These are baby steps. But EmoSPARK and all the other recently released voice-enabled intelligent assistant devices prove that the future of personal AI is just around the corner.

Social Robots on the Move

MIT Robotics professor Cynthia Breazeal recently launched JIBO, a social robot, via a Kickstarter campaign. Like the social AI cube EmoSpark, JIBO seems to have struck a chord with crowdfunding audiences. With 28 days still to go, the JIBO project has raised $656K, far exceeding its funding goal.

JIBOSo what is it that people find so compelling about social robots? Some folks are probably intrigued by the prospect of having a robot companion that brings to life the type of intelligent robot friends they’re familiar with from science fiction. Others might just find JIBO’s cute robot personality attractive and want one for their own.

JIBO is being pitched as a robot for the family. It has facial recognition software that allows it to tell who people are and to speak to them by name and deliver messages that are meant for them. It’s also supposed to be able to tell stories to children. JIBO is equipped with a round screen for a face and it can change its expression or display graphics to emphasize what it’s saying.

Based on an interview with Dr. Breazeal, it sounds like JIBO has limited conversational ability at this point. It’s programmed to recognize certain commands and carry out specific functions. The idea is that JIBO’s capabilities will expand over time. A Software Developer Kit (SDK) will allow programmers to write new code that accesses JIBO’s sensory systems and brain and add new features to JIBO. I suppose content creators might be able to use the SDK to add new stories to JIBO’s storytelling repertoire too, but that’s not spelled out explicitly.

EmoSpark, which was launched earlier this year on its own successful Indiegogo campaign, isn’t nearly as cute as JIBO. EmoSpark looks more like a funky clock-radio. It’s a talking cube. Like JIBO, it works via a WiFi connection. But based on the demos, EmoSpark is aiming to be somewhat more conversational. It will have access to Freebase in order to respond to fact-based questions. EmoSpark is also being pitched as an emotionally aware robot.

At the present time, though, neither EmoSpark nor JIBO have actually shipped. Both are still in the design and/or production phase. So it remains to be seen what features, and how much real conversational ability, will make it into the shipped versions of both social robots. There’s no doubt that social robots are creating a lot of buzz, though. And the market for these products, even if they’re more like toys than robots at this point, seems strong.

EmoSpark – A Personal A.I. Console Dedicated to Your Happiness

EmoSpark is an Android-powered smart cube that’s offered under a current Indiegogo campaign. I watched the EmoSpark campaign video and was impressed with the full range of its features. The product seems to be a mobile personal assistant as well as a physical cube. When you’re on the go, you can interact with the EmoSpark assistant via your smartphone or other iOS or Android device. When you’re at home, you can talk to a cube that’s connected to other smart devices via WiFi.

EmoSparkPatrick Levy Rosenthal, Founder and CEO of EmoSpark, describes the technology as an emotional intelligence. Based on the video, EmoSpark is programmed to sense and appropriately react to the user’s emotional state. In one segment of the campaign video, the assistant EmoSpark helps to cheer up a young lady who’s boyfriend is late to pick her up. In another segment, the EmoSpark brain plays with a little girl’s toy to add some fun to an otherwise dull evening at home.

The platform also appears to be conversational. The technical specs in the Indiegogo project description indicate that “EmoSpark has a conversational engine of over 2 million lines of data.” That seems to point to the fact that its conversational abilities are based in large part on pattern matching and/or keyword matching.

EmoSpark is also connected to Freebase and can answer most “What is” or “Who is” questions (in the same way that a BOT Libre chatbot can do this, as I described in a recent post).

The Indiegogo page claims that EmoSpark can sense emotion in the speaker. It goes even further to describe a complex technology that allows the EmoSpark to develop an “Emotional Profile Graph.” This graph gathers and stores information about emotions and emotional associations. Each EmoSpark can connect via the internet to a cloud of other EmoSparks and they can share and learn from each other’s emotional associations.

EmoSpark aims to be an open platform that will lure in developers to create new games and apps. For example, developers could tap into EmoSpark to infuse other physical or virtual objects with its intelligence. Since EmoSpark uses URBI, the universal robot language, a 3rd party app could power a URBI-based robot with EmoSpark’s conversational and emotional capabilities.

The EmoSpark concept is impressive. It’s yet another example of just how incredibly active the area of smart personal assistants (and associated artificial intelligence technologies) is at present. There’s so much creativity and progress in these technologies that it’s hard to keep up. If you’re interested in finding out more about EmoSpark or maybe in being an early adopter of the technology, head over to Indiegogo to find out more.