You Can Give This Robot Whatever Face and Personality You Like

The Ominous Industries R1 is a robot companion that has whatever personality — and face — you want it to possess.

The voice assistants on the market today lack personality. Sure, you can set your Google Assistant to use an Australian accent and everyone got a kick out of asking Siri where to bury a body, but that novelty wears off very quickly. What if you had a robot assistant with the face and personality of a friend? Or Charles Manson? You can get that right now at a surprisingly affordable price thanks to the Ominous Industries R1.

The Ominous Industries R1 is “The Intelligent Companion,” but it has little in common with Alexa or Siri. It puts a much great emphasis on physical presence, conversation, and personality, without much consideration for IoT and automation tasks. You probably won’t use the R1 to turn on your bedroom lights or text a friend, but you can lay in bed chatting with it for hours if you like.

That’s because it can use AI services like ChatGPT to respond to you in a natural way. It can even adopt different personalities, including those of fictional and historical characters. Want to discuss wacky medical concepts with Pliny the Elder? Want to gab about food and fashion with Marie Antoinette? You can! At least, to the best approximation of their personalities that ChatGPT can conjure.

ChatGPT and similar services run in the cloud, so the R1 doesn’t need a lot of local processing power. For that reason, it utilizes an inexpensive Android system meant for use as a set-top box. And this is where it gets a little bit weird, because Ominous Industries gave the R1 a face. Users can set an image they like as the face and an animated mouth (plastered on top) will move along with the speech. The image comes from a low-end video projector that shines up onto the back of a translucent screen. That screen mounts on a 3D-printed skeletal head, which can pivot under the control of an Arduino Uno R3 to look towards its conversation partner.

Microsoft’s Azure Speech services give your chosen companion a voice. There are more than 200 to select from and there is rapid advancement in this field, so it is possible that we’ll see voice mimicking features (similar to what Eleven Labs offers) very soon.

Ominous Industries provides a kit with the parts you need to build your robot, along with detailed video instructions to walk you through assembly and software setup. The kit is currently available on Tindie for $225, which feels pretty reasonable for a taste of the future. But this lacks the polish of mainstream products, so it is best suited to tech savvy individuals.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Proud husband and dog dad. Maker and serial hobbyist. Check out my YouTube channel: Serial Hobbyism
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