Toshiba developed a robot for home automation tasks that could be controlled through natural language called ApriAlpha. Beginning development in 2002, the original model was nothing more than a sphere with a webcam for a head, but over the years they improved the speech recognition and gave it some personality with a pair of eyeballs with ApriAlpha ver.2. Aprialpha ver.2’s only problem was that it looked a bit creepy, what with its googly, unblinking eyes relentlessly tracking your every move. They tried to ease the creep factor with slightly larger pupils (in ver.3), but by 2006 it was time to further refine the design, which is where the ApriPoco comes in.
So what exactly is the ApriAlpha? It communicates with various home appliances, allowing you to control them all by simply telling the robot what to do. For example, if you tell the robot,”It’s hot in here,” it could turn on the air conditioner. You could ask it what is inside the fridge – and then request a recipe containing ingredients you have on hand. It would also connect to the internet to provide the latest news and emails, which it could report verbally on request. With the ability to move around the house, the ApriAlpha could also serve as a security device, or as a way to check on your pets and loved ones while away. These were just some of the ideas Toshiba came up with.
To accomplish these tasks Toshiba has developed proprietary voice recognition, speech synthesis, and image analysis software that is platform independent called ORCA (Open Robot Controller Architecture). ORCA allows researchers to easily integrate new software to expand a robot’s capabilities.
ApriAlpha ver.3 was showcased at the Aichi Expo in 2005. It is 35cm wide, 38cm tall, weighs 9.5kg, and has 6 microphones to ensure omnidirectional voice capture. This version was nicknamed Apri “Sharp Ear” due to its ability to distinguish particular voices from among many from multiple directions, and estimate the direction of the voice’s origin. TIME also listed it among “The Most Amazing Inventions of 2005“. At one point, ApriAlpha was even given a pair of simple arms.
- Toshiba ApriAlpha press release (EN)
- Toshiba ApriAlpha ver.3 press release (EN)
- Toshiba (official site JP/EN)
- ApriAlpha @ Impress Robot Watch (JP)
Video (ApriAlpha ver.2):
Video (ApriAlpha ver.3 Sharp Ear):
Toshiba | Impress Robot Watch