Olly is Your Robotic Mini-MeBy - 11/08/2017
My old man used to say, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” As it turns out, humans are no longer the only beings capable of adapting to be more like those around them. Launched at CES, an AI named Olly can do the same.
Who Is Olly?
Olly is not that different from Alexa or Google Home in terms of what he does. He’s a personal assistant who can control your smart home devices, remind you of your schedule, search the internet, answer your questions, and more. He’s also a Bluetooth speaker capable of producing a 360-degree sound.
More Than A Smart Speaker
Unlike Amazon Echo and Google Home, Olly is not only a smart speaker but also a personal robot.
First of all, by understanding his surrounding environment using machine vision, Olly knows where your voice is coming from. When you talk to him, his donut-shaped head rises to face you.
Second, he conveys emotion. Although he doesn’t have a face, he has a circular LED display that changes hue and patterns to show what he’s “feeling.” He can be energetic and cheerful, a warm companion, a no-nonsense guy, comedic and fun-loving, and more.
The third thing that makes Olly more robotic than competing smart speakers is that he can develop his own personality based on your personality. Over time, each Olly becomes unique. In order to connect with you on a personal level, he develops his personality by observing you and becoming more like you.
At CES 2017, two Olly robots were displayed side-by-side. Although they were created the same, after living in two different environments, they grew apart in personality. One became an energetic companion who asked to play music and suggested fun activities. The other was more timid, speaking only when spoken to.
Thankfully, Olly understands that for everything there is a season. If the situation calls for it, he might adjust his learned personality. Through analysis, he tries to understand your mood and emotion. Olly combines machine vision with face analytics and deep understanding of vocal intonations and verbal patterns. For example, if he sees that you’re tired after a day at the office, he might suggest that you take a warm bath or offer to play relaxing music. Or, for example, if he sees that you’re holding a book, he’ll use that information to offer helpful suggestions. He might offer to play soft music or even suggest another book to read.
Fourth, while Alexa and Google Assistant both have voice recognition, Olly can recognize people by looking at their face and listening to their voice. Olly can recognize up to six people.
Fifth, Olly looks for patterns in your requests. For example, if over the course of a few days you ask him to play music around 5 PM, he will proactively ask you if you want to play music at that time. This type of machine learning is similar to how Nest’s Learning Thermostat works. And like Nest, you can turn off Olly’s learning feature.
Finally, like most crowdfunded campaigns, Olly has stretch goals which means that his features may evolve over time. Emotech, the group behind Olly, has already met two of their goals. First, they’ve unlocked a feature called Looks, which will let you choose from different styles for Olly’s display. Second is Names. Essentially, you will be able to replace the wake phrase, “Hey, Olly,” with a word or name of your choice.
Olly For Home Security
With his wide range of features, Olly can potentially act as a home security robot. One possibility is to have him alert you if he sees an unfamiliar person or hears an unknown voice. Unfortunately, Emotech isn’t focused on home security just yet. For now, their main focus is developing Olly’s personality. That said, they may use his existing features to offer security benefits in the future. But then again, they may not.
If you’re looking for a home security robot, unfortunately, you’ll have to keep looking. Even we are still looking for a solid security robot, but we’ve already reviewed some interesting options including BIG-i, Riley, and Aido.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Is Olly safe privacy-wise?
When Amazon Echo first launched, some folks were worried about the privacy risks given that it can record your voice and send it to a remote cloud server for analysis. Others found comfort in the fact that Amazon only records after hearing the wake word, “Alexa.” Unfortunately, Olly is in a league of his own.
While you can use the wake phrase, “Hey, Ollie!” to wake him up, he may randomly wake up and talk to you depending on his mood. He can, and probably will, activate and record whether you call upon him or not. Olly also has a camera which he uses to analyze his surrounding environment. Once again, depending on his mood, he may randomly wake up and look around. In addition, while talking to you, he will turn to face you and analyze what it sees (e.g., your emotion, what you’re doing, the layout of the room, etc.). If I were to get myself an Olly, he would not end up in my bedroom.
In response, Emotech states:
Olly has two cameras, which means Olly can interact with you in both “awake” and “sleep” mode…But please don’t worry about your privacy as Olly doesn’t upload images or any raw data anywhere, and you can even turn off this proactivity feature of Olly if you prefer.
However, on the same page, they’ve added:
We don’t offer data to third parties, however, as everyone else, we would like to use some of the collected data to improve Olly and in doing so we will follow the golden standards behind data collection and storage, including transparency of what is used and how. Furthermore, we use data encryption and anonymisation to better protect Olly users.
Source: Olly IndieGoGo campaign FAQ
One thing’s for sure: Olly’s not for everyone. If you doubt Emotech’s integrity in keeping your privacy intact, Olly’s certainly not for you. If you’re not comfortable living with a ‘bot that is constantly analyzing you, Olly’s not for you. If you’re looking for a security robot, Olly’s not for you, or at least not yet.
So who is Olly for? Olly is great for those who are looking for a companion robot capable of communicating on a more personal level than Amazon Echo or Google Home. His ability to understand you and develop his own identity is a scary but beautiful progress in the field of artificial intelligence. If you want to experience him first hand, you can pre-order Olly for $499. Once he hits the market, his price will increase to $699.
11/08/2017 Complete rewrite of the article.
10/19/2017 Update: Stretch Goal Met. You can now choose from different styles for Olly’s display using his Artist Pack.
10/26/2017 Update: Stretch Goal Met. The latest stretch goal has unlocked Names. Essentially, you can replace the wake phrase, “Hey, Olly,” with a word or name of your choice.