In Japan, a tech company called Vinclu has created Gatebox, a small black device – that oddly looks like a fancy coffee machine but which houses a hologram of an anime-like “assistant” called Azuma Hikari in a glass tube.
Once you hook Azuma up to your home network she becomes part of your daily life; waking you up in the morning, turning on your lights, wishing you luck on your way to work and she even says good night to you at bed time. Azuma proceeds to text you throughout the day with cute notes and anecdotes so as simulate the idea that she is experiencing the day with you.
“I personally believe that happiness is spending life with a partner you love,” Minori Takechi, the 29-year-old founder and CEO of Vinclu told Vice News. “I just think that partner could be a virtual one instead.”
Gatebox was originally conceived as an idea to help out a subsection of the Japanese male population that is plagued with a condition called Otaku - a social affliction in which insecure people become obsessed with computers or a particular aspect of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills - allowing them to instead find companionship with an anime character that won’t judge them. It’s an idea that seems to paid off because even at R37 000 a pop the initial run has already sold out.
Another companion you could try is Maru, an experimental AI robot created by Catalina Health to take care of your basic every day medical tasks at home. Maru looks like a tiny yellow person with big blinking eyes holding an iPad but it can actually make basic assessments of your health, call your doctor for you, text you to remind you to take your pills and use those same big blinking eyes to read the emotions on your face.
Cory Kidd, CEO of Catalina Health believes that there are not enough people to provide the level of health care that we need and that AI and robotics can provide the additional help. Kidd goes on to insist that robots like Maru should be seen as additional assistance rather than a replacement for humans – which is what they said about Skynet in the Terminator movies.
But why buy a robot companion when you can instead build your own, thanks to the new Lego Boost Collection, your kids (or you, we don’t judge) can build 5 multifunctional models that they can code themselves, including Vernie, the maraca playing Robot and Frankie, the harmonica playing Cat.
The all-in-one set launches in August 2017, at an expected price of R2 200, and comes with 840 Lego bricks and a free tablet app. You can use the simple plug and play coding feature to make full use of the Boost bricks, which feature lights, motors and sensors that can be programmed to move, rotate and read colour, distance and sound, allowing Frankie the Cat to sense the orange nib of his milk bottle when you feed him and to make a fart sound if he drinks too much. Now, a farting cat robot is definitely something we can get behind, Skynet be damned.