Tucked away inside Google Play Store is a free app called Robin that could easily be mistaken as another Siri knock-off. The difference, though, is that Robin isn't supposed to be Siri, at least not yet. Designed for drivers, Robin is limited to navigation, real-time traffic, finding parking or the nearest (and cheapest) gas station, weather, telling jokes, reading Yelp reviews and there also is some Twitter integration. Because it is in beta, the app does misfire every now and then and forces you to repeat your request. We asked Robin to find the nearest gas station and it said that there were none nearby even though a Mobil station is less than a mile away. We saw nothing at all resembling the smooth running app shown on the official video. The developer, Palo Alto based Magnifis, says that Robin is a "student" and is not yet perfect.
Screenshots of Robin
According to the developer, Robin is supposed to be like KITT from Knight Rider as it will eventually be able to learn the driver's usual driving patterns and proactively report on traffic, navigation and speed traps. Robin will even learn the user's preferences in jokes and news as this functionality is added. Just keep in mind that this is not Siri or even S Voice for that matter. In fact, don't even try to ask Robin to do some of the things that Siri does. For example, we asked Robin to set an alarm and received a response that it was "pissed" that we asked because it is not yet programmed for such a task.
If Magnifis can work out all of the bugs, and keeps Robin's eye on the road, this could be a nice little gem of an app. On the other hand, if the developer gets caught up in trying to copy Siri, it could end up misunderstood and lost in a sea of Siri copycats. As it is, many reviews at the Google Play Store are negative as users try to compare Robin to Siri. For now, that is a battle that Robin is not going to win.
Robin is designed with drivers in mind, aiming to provide them with relevant information, guidance and content via a natural voice / gesture interface. In the car, this interface becomes key, enabling a completely eyes-free interaction: voice in, voice out. Importantly, Robin's powerful dialogue engine allows a natural and smooth conversation flow, always keeping track of the implied context. Starting a dialogue is as easy as "waving hello" in front of the phone's screen, so one never has to look away from the road.
At the moment, Robin is available in beta across the US, offering features such as local search (including Yelp reviews), navigation, real-time traffic and parking information, gas prices, weather and more. And for those getting bored behind the wheel, Robin can narrate personal Twitter news (with more content reportedly coming soon) and even tell jokes.
According to Magnifis, the company behind Robin, these are just the first steps. Drawing inspiration from the famous KITT of the "Knight Rider" fame, Robin is poised to emerge as a very personal kind of assistant that becomes increasingly helpful as she gets to know her "master" better. For instance, Robin will be able to proactively alert drivers about traffic or speed cameras, based on her knowledge of one's schedule and driving patterns. And the two-way communication will make it easy for the drivers to share information, e.g., about traffic (Waze style). She will also serve as "personalized radio", narrating relevant news aggregated from a variety of sources and even learn the individual's taste in jokes.
"Today, people still think of a car assistant primarily in terms of navigation," says Magnifis co-founder/CEO Ilya Eckstein. "But in fact, we don't use navigation much, as most of the time we know our way around. What we really need in the car is someone to watch out for us as we go and be there when we need... well, just about anything. That, and being able to remain fully connected and empowered behind the wheel. To not miss out on a single important bit of life, even when you are not staring at the screen. And that is exactly what Robin is meant to help us with."
Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Magnifis is a leading innovator in speech interfaces, machine learning and location-based services. The company is using proprietary multi-language understanding technology - already powering a major service in Israel - and is backed by private investors. For more information, please visit: http://www.magnifis.com.
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