While artificial intelligence-based smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home may be grabbing the headlines, Tokyo-based Vinclu's Gatebox is looking to set itself apart with a virtual assistant who isn't just a disembodied voice, but takes the holographic form of a tiny anime girl who seems a bit too eager to please. The device was first announced back in January, but Vinclu is now taking limited pre-orders for those interested in a virtual personal assistant that also doubles as a surrogate girlfriend.

Billed as the "world's first virtual home robot," Gatebox consists of a 520 mm (20 in) high transparent tank and plastic base that makes it look a bit like a drip coffeemaker, but instead of java juice, inside is "Aizuma Hikari," a tiny anime girl designed by Taro Minoboshi and voiced by Japanese actress Yuka Hiyamizu.

The current design and sales video for Gatebox indicates without ambiguity that it's aimed at lonely young salarymen in need of companionship. In addition to providing calendar reminders and weather reports, it is also capable of realistic, personal communications.

Where digital personal assistants like Alexa, Siri, or OK Google have efficient, businesslike female personalities leavened with a dry sense of humor, Gatebox is currently programmed to be a bit more… familiar, if not adoring. It acts like a distinctly soppy girlfriend that's sad when you go to the office, sends you texts at work wanting to know when you'll be home, gets "lonely" if you're late, turns the light on in anticipation of your return, and even watches television with you with its own holographic mug of cocoa.

According to the makers, Gatebox's AI is capable of learning and adapting to its owners habits, such as when they get up in the morning or come home in the evening. The company also promises software updates and major expansions of the device's capabilities. At the moment, a press of a button on the device will wake up "Aizuma," who can engage in chat within her limited vocabulary, track its owner's movements, and recognize his (or her) face and voice.

In addition, Gatebox has an IOS/Android app with a bespoke chat function that allows it to not only send reminders to its owner, but to engage in conversations while away from the device. Presumably about how much it misses them.

Meant for a home environment, the Gatebox weighs only 5 kg (11 lb) and is designed to fit easily in an ordinary flat. It uses a range of AC currents from 100 to 240 V, and includes a stereo speaker, camera, microphone, tracking sensors, temperature and humidity sensor, and light sensor. It uses a rear projection system to provide the illusion of the anime character hologram, can make Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, and has an infrared system to control lights and home appliances. There's also has HDMI and PC inputs to allow the owner to make their own modifications and create their own characters.

The Gatebox Is available for pre-order in Japan and the United States for ¥298,000 (US$2,520) in a limited sale of 300 units that are set to ship in January.

The video below introduces Gatebox.

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