This is a guest post by the Mycroft team as part of "the startup stories", a series of blog posts about how and why innovative companies are using Ubuntu technology. If you work in technology you've probably had this dream. You wake up and your whole house is a computer, a starship in cyberspace that listens to you, understands you, and performs tasks effortlessly. Mycroft A.I. is achieving that dream using Snappy Ubuntu Core. Mycroft is an open source / open hardware project that is working to bring natural language recognition and Internet of Things (IoT) integration to homes and offices everywhere.
It might bear a passing resemblance to ET, but Mycroft's smart home system is more than a pretty face: it's an attempt to define what it means to be human through technology. The first seeds of the open source home hardware AI platform that was to become Mycroft came to Joshua Montgomery during a refit of a Kansas maker-and-enterpreneurship space he was setting up. Montgomery wanted the building to have the same abilities as the systems seen on classic sci-fi films and series. "It was inspired by the Star Trek computers, by Jarvis in Iron Man," Montgomery told ZDNet. He wanted to create the type of artificial intelligence platform that "if you spoke to it when you walked in the room, it could control the music, control the lights, the doors" and more.
The Amazon Echo is an attempt to usher in a new product category. A box that listens to you and obeys your wishes. Kickstarter creator [Joshua Montgomery] likes the idea, but he wants to do it all Open Source with a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino. The Kickstarter (which reached its funding goal earlier this month) claims the device will use natural language to access media, control IoT devices, and will be open both for hardware and software hacking. The Kickstarter page says that Mycroft has partnerships with Lucid and Canonical (the people behind Ubuntu).
Mark 1 is no Amazon Echo: it looks like an '80s clock radio mashed up with WALL-E, and speaks with a robotic, bass-heavy British accent. But the startup behind it, Mycroft, hopes it has similar appeal to hackers, students, and companies who want a voice-enabled assistant that they can run on all kinds of devices and alter at will. When it comes to voice-enabled digital assistants, there are plenty of them available these days--in addition to the Echo, which runs Amazon's Alexa assistant, there's Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Google's assistant. None of these is open-source, though, so even if developers can use it on various devices (like Amazon's Alexa), they can't go under the hood and change its code--ostensibly, to help improve it. Mycroft--whose voice assistant, which runs on Mark 1, is also called Mycroft--isn't trying to rival any of these big companies' digital helpers, says CEO Joshua Montgomery.