Smartphones have dramatically altered the way we interact with the digital world (and each other) over the past two decades. And while we’ve seen the rise of wearable devices like smartwatches that let you do more without looking at your phone, they’re still basically smartphone companions with wearable displays.
A startup called Humane is working on something different: a wearable AI assistant that doesn’t need a display… or a phone. It’s a standalone device that responds to voice commands and gesture support with voice responses. And it also has a built-in projector that can display some information on your hand or another surface when reading is easier than viewing.
Humane hasn’t provided many technical details about how the device works yet. The company hasn’t even told us its name. But there are a few reasons to take Humane seriously.
First, the company was founded by a couple of former Apple employees from that company’s design and engineering team. Second, the company has already raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors. And third, Humane is already showing off an early prototype.
Humane co-founder Imran Chaudhri showed off a demo during a TED talk on Thursday, giving us an idea of what the device looks like and at least some of what it can do.
Chaudri wore the gadget so that the top was sticking out of a breast pocket in his jacket, positioned sort of in the spot where you’d position a Star Trek com badge. Tap it like a com badge and you can speak to the device, which can do things like:
- Provide a summary of email and text messages, calendar invites, and other personal information
- Translate your speech to another language in real-time using an AI-generated voice
- Answer a variety of questions (sort of like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant)
- Use a tiny projector to display caller ID or other information on your hand
There also appears to be some sort of integrated camera, because in one demo Chaudhri holds a candy bar in front of the device and asks the gadget “can I eat this,” at which point the voice assistant responds that it “contains cocoa butter. Given your intolerance, you may want to avoid it.”
Like I said, at this point it’s unclear what technologies are powering the Humane device. But Chaudhri describes it as “completely standalone,” saying that it doesn’t need to be paired with a smartphone.
That said, it almost certainly does need to connected to the internet to access your contacts, calendar, and, most likely, remote data centers that can handle some of the AI processing so that it doesn’t all have to be done locally on a device that’s small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.
But it’s an interesting vision of a new kind of device that could theoretically free users from screens, while still offering an on-the-go digital assistant… assuming it’s priced competitively, offers decent battery life and connectivity, and performs enough of the real-world functions that we’ve come to expect from mobile devices.