When you think of the future, you imagine having some sort of robot friend in your life.
Thanks to science fiction visions of a techno-centric future put forward to us in popular culture – perhaps the Jetson’s Rosie or even Portal’s GLaDOS – we all imagine that we might make friends with a robot one day, one that will talk with us naturally and seek to help us out in our daily routines. Musio is something like that, but a really early version of it.
Currently raising money with a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo (at time of writing sitting at $16,600 after eight days, seeking a $50,000 goal) Musio is an artificial intelligence software that runs on Google’s Android mobile OS, and is packaged in the form of a rotund little robot with pointy ears. It doesn’t move around, but it has a digital screen for its eyes and heart that are used to express the robot’s emotions. It also comes with a remote pointer device, called Sophy, that is used to detect objects that trigger different interactions with Musio.
It’s designed to interact with its users with a voice interface, much like you’d use Siri. But Musio’s creators, Wilmington, Delaware-based AKA Study, stress that this is a much different experience than using Siri – Musio can have interactive conversations and remember information about its users, sort of like a little person.
Originally conceived as a tool that would help children in Asia learn other languages, the creators of Musio say they’ve expanded the concept and are interested to see if other types of users will engage with the robot’s cutesy personality. Their first target market? Developers.
The main video on the Indiegogo page features a developer meeting and interacting with Musio. Sometimes in a helpful way, but more often in an amusing way:
Beyond running on the open source Android platform, Musio is also Arduino compatible. The Arduino platform is an open source electronics platform built to be easy to program. It’s purpose is to take different inputs through a suite of sensors and then relay commands to lights, motors, or actuators as a result. Musio is also compatible with the Zigbee wireless standard used by a range of smart home devices, so it’s possible developers could intertwine the robot with other appliances and turn it into a sort of voice-activated smart home hub with a personality.
That’s a possible future for Musio. Currently, the Musio that’s a learning companion for kids has been better supported. There are several educational accessories that come with Musio, such as flash cards and a fold-out accordion board book. Using Sophy, the pointer, Musio can interact with these objects thanks to a Bluetooth low-energy connection and a special code embedded in the printed materials.
Kids also just like having a conversation with Musio, as is demonstrated in this video on the Indiegogo campaign:
The split product focus isn’t unintentional. The Musio team is approaching its Indiegogo campaign with an agile attitude. It wants to see who shows interest in the robot and what feedback they receive as a result. That could help determine where the best market lies for this little guy.
When I asked the Musio team why they wanted to make Musio a physical robot, and not just an app that could run on any number o Android devices on the market, they appealed to the emotional connection made possible with a physical object. By having the visual reference with Musio, people can establish a relationship with it as they have conversations with it.
We’ve already decided how to relate to our smartphones and voice assistances like Siri or Cortana reflect that. We see them as assistants that are there to respond to our requests. The Musio developers want use to develop a different type of relationship with technology – more of a companionship.
The first sign of whether people actually want that or not will be made clear with the success of the Indiegogo campaign.