The new year has arrived in full force with a myriad of technological marvels being unveiled at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with a sharp uptick in the prevalence of smart bots. Olly, a quirky home assistant developed by UK startup Emotech, ultimately seeks to stand out from the competition by offering a more personalized approach to in-home robotics.
More than Just an Assistant
Olly’s claim to fame is its alleged ability to develop its own unique personality based on information gathered through interactions with its owner. According to Emotech, Olly will eventually be able to have meaningful emotional interactions with humans and even have “feelings” of its own. The Emotech team is comprised of neuroscientists and machine learning experts, so it gives a degree of credibility to the notion that their AI is truly emotionally intelligent; I would remain skeptical until release to determine what Olly is capable of.
Olly can do everything that you would expect of an AI-powered device in 2017. It can intuitively offer help based on your web searches, your habits at home, and even your current mood. Aesthetically, Olly is an interesting smart home companion. Looking like a hybrid of a donut and a Frisbee, Olly lays flat upon the table until woken up by someone. Upon waking, Olly pops right up to greet you and can swivel 360 degrees to meet the gaze of whomever is speaking to it. It features a front facing camera so it can accurately recognize who its talking to and analyze speech patterns.
Olly’s inside ring is made up of an array of LEDs that can effectively convey emotions to users visually, often based on the subject matter of the conversation. Over time Olly will be able to predict user behaviors and respond accordingly with tailored advice, musical suggestions based on mood, and various other things as it integrates into the modern smart home.
Whether Olly’s deep learning features and supposed emotions will be different enough to set it apart from other smart home assistants remains to be seen, but it has certainly been well received at CES 2017. Olly won this year’s CES Innovation Awards in the categories of smart home, drones and unmanned systems, home appliances, and home audio-video accessories. It boasts a vastly different design than most its competitors, but personally, I don’t find it to be a very attractive piece of technology. I will admit the mood reactive LED ring is an innovative and aesthetically pleasing feature, but the rest of the device strikes me as toy-like rather than a futuristic centerpiece for the modern smart home.
Olly is rumored to be available for consumer purchase in either August or September of this year, with some reports suggesting a price of approximately $700. To have a substantial place in the market, Olly’s revolutionary emotional AI is going to have to live up to the hype or else it will likely flop in the face of more well-rounded competitors.