Update: Mycroft’s Kickstarter project looks like a big success so far. The one hundred $89 devices for pre-order and shipment in March were sold in the first hour according to a statement by a company representative. Unofficially, that lot sold out in the first few minutes according to at least one person that attempted to purchase a device. As of day-end 183 pre-orders had also been placed for the $129 priced group that will ship in December 2018. The company has over $64,000 in orders on a $50,000 goal so the project tipped on day one. You have just 29 more days to place your pre-order.
Mycroft is about to release its first smart display with a voice assistant called the Mark II. Amazon Echo Show helped get this product segment started in June and several Google Assistant partners announced smart speakers with displays (i.e. smart displays) at CES earlier this month. It looks like Mycroft will beat some those device to market with a small shipment in March.
A Kickstarter campaign is expected to start today at 11:00 am EDT enabling pre-orders for a limited number of the Mark II devices which will ship in March 2018. The first 100 units will go for $89. That is less than 40% of the cost of an Amazon Echo Show. If you miss out on the first 100 units, you can place an order for December 2018 shipment at a price of $129. For $99 you can build your own Mark II when it arrives in December 2018. So, if you want a Mark II smart display this Spring, you should probably place your order by 11:01 am EDT this morning.
Mycroft Stresses Data and User Privacy in its Pitch
Mycroft offers an alternative, open source voice assistant to the popular Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Independent developers have built voice interactive devices using Mycroft as the brains. That means Mycroft provides core software technology such as wake word recognition and natural language processing. Mycroft software can run on the devices it ships or any other Linux-based device. Raspberry Pi implementations have been popular in the maker community.
The company also produced a reference device called the Mark I. It is similar to a smart speaker and enables uses to access Mycroft skills similar to how they would use an Amazon Echo or Google Home. A key difference is that all of the natural language processing and all of the user data stays with the device. Zero data goes to the cloud. Apple may be stressing a greater emphasis on privacy protection with its forthcoming HomePod compared to Amazon Echo and Google Home. That claim has yet to be tested. However, Siri does send user data to the cloud. Mycroft does not.
Mycroft Also Stresses Customization
Another interesting aspect of the Mark II is customization. You are not beholden to a pre-set wake work like Alexa or Siri. There are several options and if you have some programming skills can set it to just about anything you like. In addition, Mycroft offers a capability often referred to as routines so you can set of a series of activities such as multiple smart home controls with a single command. Mycroft CEO Joshua Montgomery had this to say about the new Kickstarter campaign.
The software that we built for the Mark I now can run anywhere. You can download and run it on the Linux desktop or the Raspberry Pi. This is the first step towards our larger goal, an artificial intelligence that runs anywhere and interacts exactly like a person; an AI that understands context, can communicate naturally and hold a complete conversation…With our second Kickstarter we are looking to expand the community [and deliver] software that’s customizable and lets you rename the assistant and change its personality and appearance to fit you…We’ve also added a screen so you can see things like calendar entries, times and even security camera feeds.
For those of you looking for an open source alternative voice assistant that comes packaged in a smart speaker with a display, Mycroft’s new Mark II is worth checking out. In addition to the native skills included with Mycroft software, there are currently 139 provided by third party developers that users can add to their Mycroft-enabled device. If you pick up a Mark II in the promotion, drop me a line after you receive it and let me know what you think.