Are Holograms The Future Of Digital Home Assistants?
Azumi Hikari is an AI similar to Google Home or Amazon Echo, which comes in the form of a hologram that has “advanced friendship capabilities"
Digital assistants are increasingly becoming the most popular and ubiquitous tech of the current age. Siri assists Apple users and Cortana those who swear by Windows. There’s also Alexa for the Amazon loyalists, which acts as a personal assistant for the home, playing music, turning on lights, and checking the day’s weather. The Amazon Echo, and its smaller version, EchoDot, were among the most popular holiday gift purchases of 2016. With the popularity of these tools, it should be no surprise that another form of digital assistant has come to pass. A device coming from Gatebox Labs is very much like the Amazon Echo, but it comes in the form of a hologram in a jar. And it seems to have a unique focus on friendship over function.
Before it’s turned on, the Gatebox looks like a sleeker version of a lantern that you might take with you on a camping trip, minus the handle on top. When plugged in and activated, it features a hologram of a cartoon digital assistant called Azuma Hikari.
It’s very similar to the Echo and Google Home, but Azuma will talk back. She also expresses emotions through her body language, and even sends friendly messages to you while you’re away.
The friendship element is manifest in the promotional video. Azuma Hikari texts her companion on his phone, encouraging him to come home from work early to spend time with her. They proceed to have a real conversation, much like good friends would.
When the man returns that evening, they ‘spend’ virtual time together. As the video closes, the man is grateful that there’s someone waiting at home for him after the end of a long day.
“You know, somebody’s home for me,” he says to himself. “Feels great.”
It may be a little far-fetched to presume that a hologram can act as a digital companion, but it’s still a useful assistant for the home. There are some limitations as of now. For starters, Azuma only speaks Japanese, so those who speak other languages won’t get much use out of the device.
There’s also the very strange element of Azuma serving as a sort of pseudo-wife or girlfriend for the owner. Azuma’s character even comes with her own profile. According to the Gatebox site, Azuma is 20 years old. She likes donuts and dislikes insects. She also states that her dream is “to become a heroine to help people who are working hard.”
In her ‘profile picture,’ she’s sporting a wedding ring, driving home the idea that Azuma a companion for the desperately lonely.
What will “friendship in a jar” set you back? It certainly doesn’t come cheap, but then again, it’s shockingly affordable compared to the cost of a wedding to an actual person. Gatebox is currently accepting pre-orders for their first 300 units at a price of $2,850 USD with an anticipated delivery of December 2017.
The device has seen a lot of criticism, thanks to the rather strange way that Gatebox Labs decided to market it. One Fortune article calls the Gatebox “The Creepy Virtual Assistant That Embodies Japan’s Biggest Problems.” The article goes on to call the commercial depressing and a sign of social instability. It also points out that the marriage rate of men under 30 is a shocking 72 percent, indicating a sign of widespread isolation that could actually spur the development of something like this.
Still you can’t deny the innovation that comes with it. Gatebox has managed to develop a real hologram that can emote and hold conversations with users. It embodies machine learning so that it can offer relevant tidbits to the conversation and even send messages while you’re away, making it an impressive standard for other digital home assistants.
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Steven Dean is a designer, educator and entrepreneur focused on consumer health and wellness innovation. At his design consultancy, G51 Studio, he is involved in a broad range of projects that span business strategy, interaction and experience design, service design, and brand experience. He has designed and developed integrated user experiences for health and wellness platforms including mobile devices, networked applications and websites.
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