A project to create an always-on connected computer that interacts with its user by voice first kicked off in August 2012. Following its successful crowdfunding bid, the still in prototype Ubi went up for pre-order 2 months later, but it wasn't until earlier this year that the first beta units were ready for early bird testers and developers. Gizmag managed to get on the beta program and found the hardware pretty much ready for prime time, but the user experience still needing some attention. Ubi's creators have been busying themselves ever since and have now announced that consumer-ready computers are available to buy.
Ubi the ubiquitous computer doesn't have a keyboard or mouse and doesn't need a big screen monitor, but interacts with the user via natural conversations – in much the same way that mobile users might interact with Google Now or Siri. The 4.5 x 4.5 in (114 x 114 mm) box plugs directly into a wall outlet and connects to a home network over Wi-Fi, has two microphones and small stereo speakers, and finds out what you need to know from resources in the cloud.
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"Ubi was created to make our interaction with computer more seamless and natural in the home or office," said the company's co-founder Leor Grebler. "You can now interact with your technology through a form of two-way conversation, talking to it like you would a person and it talk back. The combination of adding voice and eliminating touch allows us to better command our world."
Since I spent some time with Ubi in April, the company has released an Android app, added interaction possibilities with smart home devices running on the WeMo or SmartThings platforms and generally improved the user experience. It can now act as a voice-activated business assistant to remind you of important meetings or send out emails to contacts, will integrate with Nest products and has added Grooveshark streaming to its music search.
Where there's more than one Ubi in the home or office, the system can be used as a kind of smart messenger service, relaying announcements from one device to another. And the company is about to launch an IFTTT channel that will bring "voice control to anything on IFTTT or get IFTTT to announce things in the home."
The internal sensors now respond to user interrogation, interaction latency has been reduced and users can change the speed of either of Ubi's two female voices.
The Ubi computer is available direct from the Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation for US$299. It's still early days in Ubi's life cycle, with the company promising much more to come in the shape of new hardware, regular updates and more integrations.
I'll be updating Gizmag's beta model very shortly and will let you know how the all-new Ubi experience compares to my beta outing back in April.