Mycroft Brings Open-Source Revolution to Home Assistants

Brilliant!  Crowd-funded (even better!) Mycroft brings the rich potential of open-source to the growing field of digital home assistants.   I suspect it won’t be long until it claims a major part of the field, because the Mycroft platform can evolve and grow exponentially by capitalizing on the contributions of many, many people, not unlike the way IFTTT has with its crowd-sourced smart home “recipes.”

According to a fascinating ZD Net interview with its developer, Joshua Montgomery, his motivation was not profit per se, but to create a general AI intelligence system that would transform a start-up space he was re-developing:

“He wanted to create the type of artificial intelligence platform that ‘if you spoke to it when you walked in the room, it could control the music, control the lights, the doors’ and more.”

                         Mycroft

Montgomery wanted to do this through an open-source voice control system but for there wasn’t an open source equivalent to Siri or Alexa.  After building the natural language, open-source AI system to fill that need (tag line, “An Artificial Intelligence for Everyone”) he decided to build a “reference device” as the reporter terms it (gotta love that techno speak. In other words, a hardware device that could demonstrate the system). That in turn led to a crowdsourced campaign on Kickstarter and Backerkit to fund the home hub, which is based on the old chestnut of the IoT, Raspberry Pi. The result is a squat, cute (looks like a smiley face) unit, with a high-quality speaker.  

Most important, when the development team is done with the AI platform, Mycroft will release all of the Mycroft AI code under GPL V3, inviting the open-source community to capitalize and improve on it.  That will place Mycroft squarely in the open-source heritage of Linux and Mozilla.

Among other benefits, Mycroft will use natural language processing to activate a wide range of online services, from Netflix to Pandora, as well as control your smart home devices.

Mycroft illustrates one of my favorite IoT Essential Truths: we need to share data, not hoard it. I don’t care how brilliant your engineers are: they are only a tiny percentage of the world population, with only a limited amount of personal experience (especially if they’re callow millennials) and interests. When you go open source and throw your data open to the world, the progress will be greater as will be the benefits — to you and humanity.

Best quick intro to the IoT that I’ve seen!

Following up on my last post, I’ve found what I think is the best quick intro to the Internet of Things!

Internet of Things,” released today by the Center for Data Innovation (hadn’t heard of them! BTW, they also get points in my book for covering XBRL, the magic potion for data…) is a quick read: it has short intros to most of the major consumer-oriented areas affected by the IoT, from healthcare to home automation, combined with two examples for each of those topics. I hadn’t heard of some of the examples (thanks, authors Daniel Castro and Jordan Misra!), although most are frequently cited ones ranging from the Nest thermostat to the Vitality GlowCap.  All in all, they’ll show almost any skeptic that the IoT is already a reality and that it will change their life!

The report concludes with brief policy recommendations for government and business alike:

  • (for government agencies) lead by example, i.e., include funding for sensors in bridge projects, etc. Yea (you listening, Obama Administration?).
  • reduce barriers to data sharing (this harkens back to my Data Dynamite book: data gains value by being shared!).
  • give consumers access to their data (again, something I wrote about in Data Dynamite).
  • avoid inundating consumers with notices (a fine line, since they need to be informed, in plain English, about how their data will be used).
  • regulate the use of data, not the collection (in line with Mercatus Center’s advice)

All in all, a nice intro to the IoT!

BTW: Thanx to ol’ friend Pete O’Dell for turning me on to this report!

ivee Sleek: 1st Wifi voice-activated assistant for home

Posted on 9th July 2013 in home automation, Internet of Things, M2M

I’m still dubious about the Internet of Things refrigerator meme (although, as someone who shops daily for dinner and only decides what to cook about 2 hours before hand on the basis of a web search for something novel, it would be cool to instantly know what ingredients I had on hand…), BUT home automation is definitely cool (and the Nest’s success shows consumers are ready for it).

I bet having the IoT affect people’s home life will also drive a lot of IoT adoption at work (the same way a lot of CEOs were introduced to the wonders of e-commerce back in the day when their kids showed them how to buy books on Amazon).

SOO, the news that ivee Sleek has launched a Kickstart campaign (as is typical for IoT ivee_sleek_smallcampaigns on Kickstart, it’s already waay over its goal!!)  for its wifi voice activated assistant for the home is big news! There’s already one backer who’s pledged $10,000, and gets the Big Enchilada perk:

“All-inclusive Factory Tour in Asia! — We will first fly you out to meet us in Hong Kong for dinner and a night on the town with the ivee team. The next day we will head to Shenzhen in order to visit our factory and tour the manufacturing floor. You will have a chance to pick any ivee (in either pearl white or night black) as she is being made right before your eyes! We’ll spend the night in Shenzhen before heading back to Hong Kong for the remainder of the trip. This trip will include air fare + hotel + meals for 7 days. Limited to 5.”

I ask you, does crowdsourcing rule, or what???

The team says that “Our goal is to create a simpler and more natural way of interfacing with the Internet and your smart home. We want to deliver the virtual assistant experience that you’ve been dreaming about for years. (their italics)”

Here’s the nitty-gritty: the device will ship in October, and initial voice commands that you’ll be able to speak include:

  • Reminders – e.g. “Remind me to pick up the kids from school at 2:45pm.”
  • Controls Devices – e.g. “Set the thermostat to 71 degrees.”
  • Alarms – e.g. “Wake me up at 6:30am.”
  • Time – e.g. “What time is it in Hong Kong?”
  • Weather – e.g. “What’s the weather going to be like in New York on Friday?”
  • Stocks – e.g. “What’s the stock price of Google?”
  • Sleep Sounds – e.g. “Play ocean waves for 15 minutes.”
  • Bed Time Stories – e.g.  “Read me a bed time story, please.”
  • Settings – e.g.  “Turn up the volume.”
  • FM Radio – e.g. “Tune the radio to 102.7 FM.”
  • Personality – e.g. “How old are you?”

I know there are some who grumble that getting this kind of information automatically will make us slaves to our machines, but it seems to me that it will actually just remove a lot of the minor hassles from our lives and improve our quality of life (and, as the website points out, it can be a real benefit for those with vision problems or who have trouble with computers), so I opt in!

ivee’s online dashboard will let users personalize their experience and connect it to many third party smart home devices, such as thermostats, locks, lights, plugs, vacuums, and more, including the Nest, WeMo, and the Roomba.

Now we’re talking!