Autom, a weight-loss coach, is our crowdfunding feature of the day. She’s a robot that helps you keep tabs on how well you diet, and she does so by being humanly and informed. The robot has been in development for the last five years, and it is now ready for mass manufacture. The developer, Dr. Cory Kidd, started the Indiegogo page so his company, Intuitive Automata, can ship Autom to dieters quicker.
Among the interesting features of Autom, she was built for human intrigue and affection. By just watching the introduction videos on Autom.com, I found myself with a vague sense of motivation. Her voice is mechanical, but friendly and her questions are welcoming. She also has a built-in camera with facial recognition, so the interaction can seem more genuine, with her being able to follow your movements.
The conversational aspect of Autom is built on a feed of subscription-based monthly updates she receives through an Internet connection. This allows her to to be “ … like a personal coach who is always thinking of something new to keep you motivated and staying on top of the latest weight loss trends,” according to their website. The monthly subscription also includes connecting to certain compatible weight scales and backing up your information on the company’s servers.
Dr. Kidd says his research has shown, based on studying “half a dozen robots and hundreds of people,” that humans do bond well with robots. He developed the first version of Autom while at MIT, studying sociable aspects of robots. Further, he says, Intuitive Automata completed a controlled study that shows people will stick with their diet longer with Autom, compared to other, presumably robot-less, weight-loss programs.
The Internet connection in Autom raised some concerns about privacy here at Robot Central. We all know how insecure and vulnerable data can be in this age, and since Autom is dealing with some very sensitive data, we raised questions about security with Intuitive Automata. They responded:
We have not seen a lot of concern from individuals about their information. However, we consider information security to be very important and are designing our system to keep each person’s information secure. Other customers are hospitals, health insurers, and employers, so we are working to meet their security and privacy regulations. From our CTO, Bill McCord, “we have satisfied most of their concerns by always transmitting over SSL and limiting access to the back-end.”
From our CTO Bill McCord: “The likelihood of getting hacked is very low since we have modified base Android hardly at all. The likelihood of someone both a) hacking our back-end and b) figuring out our update process is extremely low.” Even then, they would only get access to user data for the one account they hacked. It’s a much more likely scenario that if someone wants that data that they’ll steal the person’s robot from their home or set up a surveillance system to watch them stepping on their bathroom scale, as it would be much less trouble to get the same data.
Android developers can also get in the mix by developing apps with the company’s API. Once sent out, developers can access the robot’s low-level motors, the eye camera, text-to-speech control and can define motor movements using XML files. As an aside, through the API, it would be cool to see an integration of the Nike Fuel band with Autom to track how many steps you have taken in the day.
The issue now is getting over a hill of expensive manufacturing costs. Intuitive Automata has an agreement with a Hong Kong-based manufacturer, and any funds raised on Indiegogo will go toward defraying the cost of getting the initial run of Automs out.
At the time of publishing this, the Flexible Funding project has raised $6,588 out of the $50,000 goal. There are 19 days left in the campaign. The Perks amounts range from $5 – $5,000. At the low-end, you can get a postcard or a USB storage key; mid-level perks include putting a down payment on a Autom, getting an early version of Autom (minus the Internet connection), getting an actual first-run Autom or getting the development API in addition to the robot; at the high-end, you can get a factory tour or set-up a party (or conference, or what have you) with the creators of Autom.
It is expected that Autom will begin deliveries around May or June 2013. That’s still lots of time to prepare for your diet, as it were.
Autom Introduction on Vimeo: