Just in time for post-holiday guilt comes Autom, the diet robot that reminds you to eat healthy, asks you how much you exercised per day, and generally sits there being judgmental as you stuff your face with pecan pie. The robot, originally announced in 2007, is coming to life thanks to an Indiegogo campaign and the help of gadget masters PCH International, a manufacturer in Shenzhen, China.
We’ve written quite a bit about Autom so far but to recap, it’s essentially a little robot that sits in your kitchen and reminds you to input the foods you’ve eaten and the exercise you’ve done. It’s friendly about it, but insistent, and in tests users have grown attached to their little kvetches, even resorting to dressing them up.
“In terms of the weight-loss coach application, Autom has been shown to be much more effective at helping someone stick with a diet as compared to doing the exact same thing on a computer, phone, or tablet screen. When we gave the trial version of Autom out to people, they talked about her like a friend or a family member after only a few weeks of having one short conversation with her every day,” said Cory Kidd, founder of Intuitive Automata and creator of Autom. “Not only that, nearly everyone named her and many people even dressed her up with things like scarves, hats, or a red feather boa!”
The partnership with PCH allows the company to ship a mere six months after the Indiegogo offer ends, a first in the crowdfunding space. The company is also creating a developers kit so users can build their own apps, controlling the motors, vision system, and speech output.
“Autom was developed based on my Ph.D. work at the MIT Media Lab where I spent six and a half years developing an understanding of the psychology of human-robot interaction and the health-related applications,” said Kidd. “In other words, I helped to figure out why talking to a robot is much more compelling than interacting with a character on a screen. In short, it’s the exact same reasons that we prefer to meet face-to-face with someone instead of talking through the phone or video conferencing — we tend to trust the person in front of us more, develop a better rapport, and feel more comfortable.”
The Indiegogo deal gets you an Autom without weight-loss coach subscription for $199. An Autom with a 1-year subscription to the service costs $249 while the dev kit costs $299. According to the site, the dev kit gives you access to:
- Low-level control of her six motors
- The camera inside her eye
- The audio and microphone for sound in and out
- Define a series of movements using XML files for her to play out on her motors
- Text-to-speech (TTS) control including markup for improving pronunciation
- Higher-level behavior control using a simple markup language that allow you to combine motor actions with text during TTS
Whether you’re trying to lose a few pounds or just need someone small and plastic to talk to, the simple fact that Autom is shipping is great news for the artisanal hardware world, and here’s hoping she helps me get rid of this spare tire, spare chin, and extra bust.