Robin, a virtual assistant application for Android that’s a bit like KITT in app format, is out with its first major update since its public beta launch in June. Not meant as a Siri clone, Robin is focused primarily on assisting users while driving – that is, it helps keep their eyes on the road by offering support via its voice and gesture interface. Robin currently offers navigation, real-time traffic, parking and gas info, local search, and more, and can also narrate your tweets, Facebook posts, emails, and SMS messages. It can even tell you jokes, if that’s your thing, or play your music using a variety of apps.
The Palo Alto-based company was spun off from technology co-founder and CTO Vladimir Getselevich began developing several years ago. An expert in natural language search and speech recognition, he had previously founded a speech-to-text company called NovoSpeach (no relation to the service as it stands today). And he developed technology that was used in a private project by the largest bus company in Israel for an SMS-based Q&A system for routes, schedules and prices. Later on, Getselevich and a former classmate from Israel’s Technion, Ilya Eckstein, then at TeleNav, began hacking together on a new project that eventually became Robin.
The beta was rolled out in June to the public, where it now somewhat competes with the crowd-sourced traffic service provided by Waze, for example, as well as other “personal assistant” apps that answer questions, perform tasks, or read text messages and status updates (e.g. Vlingo, Evi, Iris, Android’s own “Voice Actions,” etc.). But Robin’s biggest differentiator between it and other assistants and utilities is that it’s designed only for drivers or others who are on the go. It’s working to add a layer of intelligence to drivers’ needs – like discovering traffic jams, for example, and alerting you to this.
The app is interacted with by speaking to it, as with other virtual assistants, and it can also be launched just by waving your hand over the phone.
In the new version, Robin now supports real-time traffic including ETA information, as well as personal and proactive traffic alerts. Robin actually learns about your typical commute and mobility patterns, and can then start to alert you of delays – even if you haven’t launched the app. (It runs as service in the background). In addition to narrating your Twitter feeds, which Robin did previously, it can now also narrate news and Facebook updates, email and SMS, as noted above. And the app itself has been given a visual makeover to make it more user-friendly and appealing.
Says Eckstein, what you see now is really only the beginning for Robin, but its focus will continue to be on helping drivers and similarly mobile users. “We are not trying to be the answer to all questions,” he says, when asked how it compares with other mobile assistants. “In general, I think [voice assisting is] a very big field right now that’s just in the very beginning. And voice interaction will become very common – as common as the mouse, for instance. Robin is designed to have depth, and not cover everything. It’s designed for people on the go.”
Magnifis, the company behind Robin, now has a few hundred thousand in angel funding from angel investors, including those listed here on AngelList. The app has reached 100,000 downloads on Android since June. You can download the app here.