Omate Yumi Gives Alexa A FaceBy - 12/22/2016
She listens, she talks, yet you can’t see her. I’m talking about Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa.
Alexa made Amazon Echo an awesome smart home assistant, with her ability to answer questions, control smart home devices, and provide voice control. But for the past two years, Alexa has been content as the voice behind the curtain. That’s about to change. A third-party developer has created a robot made intelligent by Alexa. With Alexa’s voice, abilities, and intelligence plus a face and body, Omate Yumi is a device you shouldn’t overlook.
Who Is Yumi?
Yumi is a robot with the capacity to move, talk, listen, and add security to your home. She strikes a resemblance to Buddy, a robot we met at CES. Like Buddy, her head bears a 5-inch touchscreen tablet, which functions as her “brain”. The tablet also displays her face and provides visual feedback when needed. She runs on Omate’s Robotic Artificial Intelligence platform powered by Android.
Yumi’s body houses most of her electronic components, such as speakers, microphones, and a 3,500 mAh battery. She supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity for a wireless connection. There are also ports for HDMI and microUSB as well as a charging port. Finally, she can move around using three wheels.
Yumi’s primary function is threefold. She is primarily meant to be used as a family robot, for home security, home automation, and entertainment.
Yumi For Home Security
Although her face shows virtual eyes, her real “eye” is the camera built into her head. The camera’s resolution is unknown, but Omate claims it is CCTV-grade and powerful enough to monitor your home. In fact, Yumi can stream live videos to your smartphone through her companion app, just like other security cameras.
Yumi broadens her potential for home security with her mobility. However, though Yumi is mobile, she can’t “walk around” on her own. If you want to make Yumi roam your house, you’ll have to guide her using your smartphone, similar to the way you’d drive a remote-controlled car. While guiding her, her camera streams live video to your phone so you can see where she’s headed. Her mobility broadens her potential for home security as it allows you to monitor multiple rooms. Of course, you have to keep in mind that her design only allows her to roll on flat surfaces, so make sure to keep her away from the stairs.
Yumi for Automation
Yumi’s automation features are made possible by Alexa thanks to Alexa Voice Service (AVS), a program that allows third-party developers access to Alexa technology. Through AVS, developers can give their products access to all or some of Alexa’s features. Through the cloud, Yumi has access to all features, including music services, smart home services (the same compatibilities as Echo), news, cloud-based intelligence, custom skills, and the Alexa app. However, she doesn’t possess any of these abilities at a hardware level. Instead, she is a listening device. She listens to what you want, she forwards your request to the cloud, and retrieves the information or service. Though she is acting as a go-between, the process of getting information is no more delayed than it would be if you used Amazon’s own set of devices including Echo or Dot.
Yumi for Entertainment and Communication
Yumi can also be fun and entertaining. Like Echo, she functions as a Bluetooth speaker so you can play music from your phone. You can also use Alexa’s partnership with music apps such as Spotify or their own Amazon Music Unlimited service. If you’re more into watching, you can download streaming apps like Netflix from the Play Store, something that can’t be done using Echo or Echo Dot. Yumi’s OS is Android based allowing her to support Android apps. You can watch on Yumi’s screen, or you can hook her up to your TV via HDMI. You can also download Android games to Yumi and use a Bluetooth console, such as the Razer Serval, to play.
Aside from being an entertainment hub, Yumi is also a communication hub. With VoIP Android apps downloaded to Yumi, such as Skype or Viber, you can voice or video call your family and friends. Yumi will make use of her camera and screen to enable two-way video. The catch is, you can’t use your voice to initiate a call. Instead, you can initiate one using her touchscreen and a VoIP app.
But Can She Hear You?
Of course, none of this matters if Yumi can’t hear you. As she is a listening device, we must ask, “How good of a listener is Yumi”? We all know that Alexa’s main feature is voice control, and for this feature to work, Yumi needs to be a great listener. Unlike Echo, Yumi doesn’t claim to have far-field microphones. Instead, she has five microphones working together to hear you from any direction. Is this enough? It’s hard to tell without testing Yumi. But to compare, Echo has seven far-field microphones that can hear you from across the room. However, even Echo mishears sometimes.
One hearing advantage Yumi has over Echo is the use of 360° sound localization technology. She uses this to determine where your voice is coming from. Once she knows where you are, she turns around, faces you, and looks you in the eye. Fun or creepy? I actually think this might be useful. If she is focused on you and your voice, it improves the chances of her hearing you correctly the first time.
Yumi isn’t the first robot with a voice AI, but she’s the first one with Alexa Voice Service. That’s something because Alexa is a tested voice AI assistant. Unfortunately, Yumi isn’t available to the public yet. Omate pre-launched Yumi on IndieGoGo, but they’re only looking for beta testers who are willing to pre-order Yumi at a discounted price. In exchange, testers are expected to provide feedback about Yumi’s performance so Omate can further improve her features before the final launch. If you’re interested, you can order order Yumi now for $599. She is expected to ship to testers in April. One final thought, it’s rumored that Amazon will soon launch an Alexa-backed touchscreen device of their own making. So this begs the question, are Yumi’s extra features enough to justify the significantly higher price tag?