A small robot holding a smartphone, called Shimi, won the hearts and minds of the technology press in June, in part on the strength of the below video. Watch it. You will see a robot that dances, learns how to dance from you, and points its ears (which are actually speakers) at you as you move about the room.
Surely, something like this must cost a fortune. Nope. For $149 (a $50 discount on what it will cost normal people), you can pre-order a Shimi on Kickstarter, helping this robot reach its Kickstarter goal of $100,000. As of right now, it only has $40,755, with just 12 days to go. If you pre-order — and enough other people do too — you can expect to have your own personal Shimi in February.
There are at least six reasons you might want to pre-order Shimi the music robot in the next 12 days — in part, so that the project happens, because Kickstarter projects typically don’t take off unless they hit their funding target. (Note: The author pre-ordered a Shimi while writing this article.)
1. The speakers are apparently pretty good.
I know one of the people behind this project, Gil Weinberg. He is the head of Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology. I met him while judging music robots (see my writeup-with-photos on Wired), and he knows what he’s talking about. Weinberg swears to me that Shimi will sound very good indeed. Its body is a subwoofer, and the ears that follow you around are tweeters, so basically, this is a 2.1 speaker system with the added benefit that it is also an impressive-looking music robot that will impress your house or office guests.
“We’re working with a Chinese manufacturer,” Weinberg told Evolver.fm via phone. “The subwoofer is six watts, and the two tweeters in the ears are three watts each. I don’t know if you watched my TechCrunch Disrupt presentation, but [Google Ventures partner and founder of Digg and Revision3] Kevin Rose asked me how it’s different from other toys that dance to music, and I made the point, and I think it’s an important point, that this really is a very good speaker dock. It’s not just a toy, or a robot — it’s a speaker dock with personality… Most importantly, it’s a good speaker dock. I know it’s small, but it’s not less of a speaker dock than a robot.”
People regularly pay in the ballpark of $149 for 2.1 speaker systems, and those aren’t even robots. Case closed, it would seem — and we’re not even done here.
2. It’s not a gimmick. It’s a freaking robot.
This is not a dancing Coke can. It’s a music robot, which will get smarter over time (see below). The only reason you can afford it is that other companies already built the really expensive parts, and you probably own them, in the form of an iPhone or iPod Touch, for now, and soon Android too.
“When a robot’s brain is in your pocket, or in the cloud, we can make them much more affordable,” said Weinberg. “It can grow from music into other directions.”
3. Robots in the home don’t need to suck.
For most people, having a robot in the home means owning a big puck that knows how to clean floors. I for one welcome our robotic underlords of the floor, but I’d also like to see robots do more interesting things. We live in the future. Isn’t it time for an intelligent, dancing robot that plays music? What could be so harmful about that? Sure, they’ll infiltrate, but…
“The idea is having robots that are specifically very [good] at a particular [thing] like music — and we have some other ideas — as a way to enter robots into the house, instead of creating a C3PO that does everything but save princesses,” quipped Weinberg.
4. It’s “My Buddy” for music fans, but not lame.
It will play for you. It will dance with you. It will listen to you. It will understand you.
“The idea of having a musical body that recommends music to you and tells you what’s hot, and dances with you, and learns from you what you like based on your taste — of course there are applications that try to do this, but when you have an embodied guy who gestures, it’s a completely different experience,” said Weinberg. “It can look at how you dance, because it has an iPhone… how you move to the beat, and understand using the AI if you like it or not. It’s a more natural way of interacting with it than the Pandora thumbs up / thumbs down kind of idea. You can teach it. It does face detection, and it’s starting to do some limb detection. You can play games with it, and it responds.”
5. It’s friends with the cloud and APIs.
Shimi will be connected to the internet through your iPhone (and later Android), which means it will be allow you to play music-guessing games with friends, or even to collaborate on a new dance style, by teaching various moves to Shimis that are connected remotely. This cloud connectivity also means that Tovbot will be able to improve the app — and therefor Shimi — without you having to deal with any tedious firmware upgrades.
“It will become smarter and better, and we don’t have to do anything for it, because your phone will get smarter and better,” said Weinberg. “For example, we currently use natural language processing so you can say ‘Hey Shimi, play OutKast,’ and it will understand,” said Weinberg. “But maybe if you speak in a different accent, like me, or there are some words that are not understandable, maybe it’s not as good as it can be. But we’re using Google Voice API, and Google Voice API will improve. The second [that happens] suddenly Shimi will understand you better.”
6. Lots of important people (in addition to us of course) say they love it.
Shimi was a finalist at TechCrunch Disrupt, and according to the Kickstarter page, these publications said the following things about him, her, or it (Tovbot calls it a “him”) after a prototype debuted at the Google I/O conference:
Gizmodo: “I gotta have one”
The Next Web: “Jaw-Dropping”
TechCrunch: “amazes audience”
Mashable: “believe what you just saw”
(image courtesy of TovBot)