Whether it’s Apple’s HomePod, Google’s Google Home or Amazon’s Echo, you can’t throw a rock in 2018 without hitting a tech giant that is jumping on the smart artificial intelligence assistant bandwagon. A new project created by roboticists in South Korea adds a slightly different twist to the smart speaker concept, however, through a constantly listening robot that is designed to help us stave off loneliness.
Called Fribo, the cat-looking robot device works by listening to the sounds in your home, and then figuring out what you are doing using A.I. Once it knows this, it will then pass this information on to friends in your social circle in the hopes that it triggers an interaction.
For example, if it hears you opening your fridge door, your buddy could receive a message alerting them to this fact, and pondering “which food your friend is going to have?” That may sound a bit creepy, but the hope is that these kinds of prompts could cause people to communicate more. (Even if we might personally feel a bit alarmed if a friend we hadn’t heard from for a while called up to ask why we’ve opened the fridge at 10 p.m. on a Friday night!)
“The primary function of Fribo is to share the daily activities to alleviate isolated feeling and loneliness that one experiences while living at home alone,” the researchers noted in a paper about the project.
Fribo isn’t the only example we’ve come across of smart assistants which aim to promote social interactions. Intuition Robotics’ ElliQ, for instance, is designed with the elderly in mind. Like a mix of the Amazon Echo and a robotic version of the animated Pixar mascot, ElliQ uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to both offer limited robo-companionship, and also to suggest that owners reach out to friends and family regularly.
At this stage, it’s not clear whether Fribo will make it to market. The researchers suggest a long-term study, which would test the technology on users around the world. While we’re not sure that this is a solution everyone would be happy with, we do think that the researchers are asking the right questions about the isolating effects of technology and modern life.