London Startup Brings Emotional Intelligence To The Connected Home


Trevor Clawson, Contributor

April 30, 2015

Most of us are probably guilty of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects, at least to some degree. We shout at our laptops when their screens freeze (because of course they can hear and understand every word), we occasionally talk back to our in-car satellite navigation systems and we may even name our cars and credit them with personalities. It’s just our way of humanizing the technology that surrounds us .

But things move on and  household technology is set to become just a little bit more human. Witness EmoSPARK, an intelligent consul that combines ‘emotional’ learning with enough artificial intelligence to enable it to interact and converse with its owners and respond to their moods.

Developed by London-based startup EmoSHAPE, EmoSPARK is packaged as small, stylish cube. Once positioned in the home, it connects either wirelessly or directly with a range of devices, including television sits and smartphones. Essentially it’s an interface, allowing its users to control devices and access digital services via voice commands. On launch it provides voice access to Wikipedia, plays YouTube videos, monitors and relays activity on Facebook and offers weather forecasts on demand. When users are out of the home, its services can be accessed remotely via phone. As investor and API Script Developer Brian Fitzpatrick explains: “It offers the easiest possible way to access services and information. For instance, if you want to know more about the Taj Mahal for a homework project, you just as EmoSPARK to search Wikipedia.” More functionality is on the the way. As EmoSpark develops it will provide a means to control a broad range of household devices and will also provide information according to the preferences and requirements of its owners.

Emotional Rescue

If all this sounds a bit  familiar in the era of Siri and the Internet of Things, EmoSHAPE believe their robot companion contains a trump card in the shape of emotional intelligence. Each EmoSPARK device is designed to get know its owner. It starts with an introductory “bonding” procedure. Once wired up to a camera, the device learns not only to recognise its new owner but also learns about his or her personality and preferences. In the first instance, the device will monitor when its owner is frowning or smiling. A smile will trigger more interaction and perhaps prompt the machine to add an element of humour. Conversely, when faced with a frown EmoSPARK will probably roll back on the humour or apologise and offer a different service. Over time EmoSPARK’s understanding of its owners emotions will become more sophisticated allowing it to create a machine personality that is to some degree aligned with that of the user. It’s a learning curve for man and machine.

“The idea is that EmoSPARK will be like a friend rather than just a household robot,” says Fitzpatrick. “It’s not just something that turns things on and off. You will be able to have a conversation.”

Coming to the Market

EmoSHAPE was established around two years ago by founder Patrick Levy-Rosenthal. As Fitzpatrick explains it was initially hard to attract investors. “They didn’t really ‘get’ the concept,” he says.

Crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo provided the way forward, enabling the company to raise $200,000 to fund the development of prototypes. With the addition of angel funding the company this week launched a market-ready device.

Launching an unfamiliar product into the consumer market is a notoriously difficult undertaking and the company is taking a step-by-step approach. The first machines are being delivered a\ select group of supporters ( the Guild) who will help the company ensure the product it right for the broader consumer marketplace. Meanwhile advance orders are being taken, with the machines retailing from the EmoSHAPE site at $315 or $375 with a camera.

There will be two additional revenue streams. Users will allowed a set number of interactions every month, but will have the option of buying more and Fitzpatrick says the company will also get a cut of premium third party services accessed via the cube.

Will EmoSPARK capture the imagination? Certainly we are moving into an era when consumers – and indeed businesses – are seeking easy ways to control devices and access online services. By positioning their interface as something more than a bland box in the corner of the room, EmoSHAPE have an opportunity ad elements of fun and creativity to the creation of smart homes and offices

This article was written by Trevor Clawson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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