People are fast becoming accustomed to laptops and smartphones talking back, delivering information about the weather, movies, restaurants in that unmistakably computerized monotone. Ask for an email update every five minutes and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
Not with Lexy, a new robot part-developed by Skolkovo resident companies and unveiled at a recent artificial intelligence conference in Moscow.
Lexy might just tell you where to go.
“He’ll just refuse, because he’s fed up with you,” said Dmitry Suvorov, the project director, in an interview with sk.ru.
Lexy is programmed to emulate a wide range of emotions. Photo: Lexy
But a finite temper is just one trait in a whole spectrum of emotions programmed into the robot, by Skolkovo resident Nanosemantics, in order to raise it above the level of automated assistant to a friend you can have a chat with.
“He can even lie a little bit. It’s all in moderation, of course. It’s all done to make him more similar in interactions with that of a real person,” Suvorov said.
Lexy’s appearance is to be that of a small black and green sphere with a camera for video interactions. It – or “he,” as the developers say – will be able to process commands and respond via a connection to the internet, but will also work in offline mode, something new in the market.
Lexy’s developers have created a new sound card that can recognize speech better than existing technology, and also allows the robot to understand the incoming audio as soon as it is spoken.
This also means that Lexy can be happily interrupted and given a new command.
“None of the competitors have this,” Suvorov said. “Usually, when you talk with a robot, you can’t cut across him. You give the command, and he executes it. Ask him to recite poetry and he’s there for 15 minutes or more – you won’t stop him until he reaches the end.”
“With Lexy it won’t be like this. You can ask him to stop and do something else, and he’ll understand,” Suvorov said.
It is still early in the development cycle: By the end of the year, the team will have finalized the design and begin production of the first batch of 100 robots. The pilot batch will be modified according to feedback from users, after which the first 1,000 robots will go on sale, Suvorov said.
Lexy’s software only allows for interactions in Russian for the moment, although the team will develop English and other versions if the original is a success, he added.
The company’s business plan foresees an initial retail price of 20,000 to 25,000 rubles ($500-$635), though that will inevitably decrease once economies of scale kick in, Suvorov said.
Lexy is a Skolkovo resident of the IT Cluster. It is designing the movement system of the robot, while Nanosemantics, another Skolkovo resident is responsible for the robot’s “emotions.” The robot’s offline capabilities are being developed by Stel Computer Systems.