2012-11-07

Co.Exist

A Computer You Can Talk To Monitors Your Home And Helps With Chores

The Ubi, a ubiquitous computer you plug into a socket, can do things like read you your email or tell you the temperature in the room. All you have to do is ask.

You probably have at least one computer in your house. But what can it do, really? Connect to the Internet? Do some word processing? That’s so last century. Imagine instead a voice-activated computer that’s always on, is entirely hands-free to use, and keeps you up to date on everything in your home.

Such a device exists. It got its start with a very successful Kickstarter in September and is now available to pre-order for $219. The Ubi, short for ubiquitous computer, is positioned by its creators as a new set of hands and eyes for the home with the ability to accomplish tasks like searching the Internet or reminding people of their appointments while they cook, fold laundry, and read.

The startup is the work of just three engineers in Toronto, who are ambitiously gunning for the future of home computing at the same time that massive tech corporations haven’t been able to put out a product that sticks.

Ubi looks almost like a speaker. A flat, rectangular black box, it plugs into a wall outlet, connects to WiFi, and proceeds to fulfill some Siri-like functions. The demo video shows a lady in her kitchen asking Ubi how many teaspoons there are in an ounce. 16, Ubi tells her, in a robotic voice. She doesn’t miss a beat with her chopping.

Ubi’s other functions include serving as a baby monitor or noise-pollution monitor. You can call people through it, or you can use it as an alarm clock. It pulls weather data to signal how you should dress (a throbbing blue lights could mean its cold outside, for example). It can monitor the state of a room--take its temperature, air pressure, humidity, and ambient light, and store the data online for later analysis.

If those aren’t enough features, the technology is an open platform that allows developers to come up with their own uses around it. And Ubi is collaborating with another Kickstarter sensation SmartThings--which, like the name suggests, makes everyday household things, like lights or doors, "smart"--so that the computer can turn lights on in the next room over.

The creators are interested in exploring the benefits the Ubi could have for the elderly or people with "visual, hearing, or mobility impairments. They write on the site, "We want the Ubi to make it easier for our parents and loved ones to stay connected with us and the world."

The product will begin shipping early next year.

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