Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Robin: a car concierge

Almost four years ago, when we were working in the Smart Living Room project, I noticed a start-up called Robin Labs and asked: How different is a car assistant from a living room assistant?

(From TechCrunch in 2012

Now, I recently saw a blog post from Robin Labs  that says something very sensible, that the husband has been saying for a while.

Their blog post (excerpt below) describes four types of `bots':

  1. App-bots - that sounds like an apt name for those micro-apps dressed up as messenger contacts, typically addressing long-tail use cases such as ordering pizza or checking flight schedules - needs that could as well be met with a native app (assuming you managed to get people to actually download one). More importantly, these use cases are not necessarily conversational by nature. [..] they are often better off with standard visual UI element such as menus or buttons. Unless, of course, they rely on voice for input - then, see (4). Bottom line, app-bots are more apps than bots, in the traditional sense of the word. 
  2. Content bots - such as Forbes or CNN bot, for instance. These guys are really content distribution channels, they are all about push and are hardly ever conversational, but can sometimes support basic keyword search. In theory, a dialogue-driven newsbot could make an interesting product, but nobody has really nailed it yet. 
  3. Chatbots - i.e., genuine "chat bots", where the chat medium is in fact key to the experience, namely, where verbal communication actually helps get the job done. One popular use case is of course, customer service, which may very well be the killer app for chatbots. But, beyond run-of-the-mill customer support, we are seeing a surge in conversational concierge bots: from transaction-oriented services such as travel agents, to more casual assistance such as movie recommendations, to virtual friends, etc. Notice that, in principle, chatbots can be powered by either human agents or machines (or both).  Naturally, the trend is to eliminate or at least minimize the reliance on humans - to make the service both more responsive and more scalable. But, even when striving for a fully automated chatbot, one should not completely rule out a hybrid human-in-the-loop approach.
  4. Voice assistants - such as Amazon Echo, our Robin app, etc. - are essentially chatbots that use voice as the main/only communication channel, becoming very handy e.g., in the living room, in the car and other hands-free scenarios. Due to their reliance on voice, these bots have the highest conversational fluency bar of all other categories. As a result, they are the hardest to build, but can be genuinely useful when typing is not a good option - as evidenced by Amazon Echo's popularity. When the experience works, it does feel like the holy grail! 
Well, I wouldn't write it exactly like so, but totally agree that open ended conversation is very different from a bot that is supposed to help you solve a particular problem...

Anyways, they also have an awesome picture of Daleks, reproduced here for your delight.

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