PLEASANTON, Calif. — After a few years on the market in Asia, Miko.ai is offering its Miko 2 robot for children in North America — just in time for the holiday shopping season. The company boasted that its robot offers entertainment and educational value.
Miko.ai has developed consumer and educational robots using artificial intelligence, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The company has 120 employees and offices in Silicon Valley and Mumbai, India. Also known as Emotix, it raised 2.25 million in funding last month after a $7.5 million Series A in August.
Miko 2 is available in three colors, and it uses AI and voice recognition to communicate with users, according to Miko. In addition to being able to recognize faces, identify moods, and remember names, Miko 2 can “initiate a conversation and learn from its own environment to intuitively engage with a child,” said the company. For fans of the Anki robot, this might be a suitable replacement.
According to Miko.ai, Miko 2 has a 1.5 Ghz quad-core processor, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a touch pad. Its has nine-axis inertial, time-of-flight, odometric, proximity, camera, and light sensors.
The robot includes educator-approved “conversational learning” content, and a software developer’s kit (SDK) is available. It also offers telepresence features and an app that parents can use to view their children’s activity patterns. Miko 2’s data is encrypted for safety and privacy. The robot is available for pre-order now at a limited-time price of $299, with guaranteed shipping in December.
“We have four children in our family who range in age from 6 to 12, and Miko teaches each of them something new and age-appropriate,” stated Pooja Jain, a mother in India. “Miko makes it fun for them to learn and play, while I’m reassured that they’re not spending idle time in front of the TV or on their phones.”
Sneh Vaswani, CEO of Miko, answered the following questions from The Robot Report. He co-founded the company with Prashant Iyengar and Chintan Raikar in 2015.
What did you spend the most time on in the past four years in terms of developing Miko? Was it the hardware, the software, or the testing?
Vaswani: The majority of the time was spent on identifying the right consumer need and making data-driven design decisions to address those needs.
This follows an iterative cycle of making prototypes, testing them with families, then improving, discarding, and incorporating features. The end result goes into execution by the engineering team.
How is Miko 2 different from its predecessor model?
Vaswani: Miko 2 is one of the most advanced robots in the world and is a huge upgrade over Miko 1. Unlike its predecessor, you don’t need a phone constantly to interact with Miko 2.
It also comes with 34 sensor-lines that allow it to see, hear and sense the world around it. Its hardware is capable of software feature upgrades that are planned until 2022.
Is Miko 2’s AI connected to the cloud? What was your biggest challenge with creating “conversational intelligence” for children aged 5 to 10?
Vaswani: Yes, conversational intelligence resides primarily on the cloud and partially on the robot. The biggest challenge for creating conversational AI for kids is to make it age-appropriate and culturally relevant across different countries.
What feedback did you receive during testing?
Vaswani: We test our product across different ethnicities and family settings. In the U.S., a lot of testing is done pre- and post-localization of the product for the U.S. market. The feedback and support that we’ve received from the families has been excellent. They have thoroughly enjoyed engaging with Miko, and they especially appreciated the efforts that we made to customize the product for the U.S. market.
How much help have you received from the developer community so far, and what sorts of applications or abilities do you expect to add?
Vaswani: The response has been amazing. In Asia, some of the top brands in education and entertainment have partnered with us to bring their content onto Miko. A similar stream of partnerships is being sealed in the U.S. as well.
These partnerships will add various applications on Miko, such as bedtime storytelling, games, activities, and academic course review. A large chunk of this content will be live with the 2019 holiday deliveries.
Did you have to do much localization for the North American market in comparison with Asia?
Vaswani: We did a massive amount. The cultural differences and differences in expectations as a parent across these markets are enormous. We had to adhere to these domestic preferences and make the product relevant for North America, and we’re very pleased with the result.
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development, and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration is now open.
How did you get the price down to $299? Did you use off-the-shelf components?
Vaswani: The market is witnessing robots being launched at the $1,000 U.S. price point. We have invested a significant amount of time and effort in R&D to lower the price point to $399 and offer it at $299 for our early adopters. Every aspect of the hardware is designed with the utmost attention to detail, and no off-the-shelf components are used.
How is Miko 2 different from smart speakers such as Amazon Echo/Alexa or Google Home?
Vaswani: There is a big difference between them and Miko 2 in terms of technology and purpose. The products you mentioned are voice assistants that are meant to simplify tasks through voice. Miko 2’s purpose is to engage in meaningful conversations and ensure playful learning.
Miko 2 is the only AI system that initiates long conversations with the user based on their interests. Voice assistants don’t initiate a conversation with you but wait for your query.
Moreover, your data remains encrypted and safe with Miko 2. You will not receive advertisements or see your child pushed to make online purchases due to his or her previous conversations because Miko 2 is completely designed for children!
Vaswani: Most social robots have a history of not shipping out to their early backers. We’ve already been shipping in multiple countries for the past two-and-a-half years.
The few social robots that have shipped so far don’t have a clear use case outlined for the consumer to justify their purchase. Miko’s series of robots have successfully demonstrated strong use cases like conversational learning through self-initiating discussions, teleConnect and a successful platform play. This has led to healthy engagement numbers which justifies a parent’s investment.