Remember the videos from Japan that went viral of a small, virtual home assistant that lives in a capsule and talks like she’s your tiny cute wife? That’s Japanese artificial intelligence company Gatebox’s landmark invention, the GTBX-100. Gatebox opened pre-orders for the virtual assistant all the way back in 2016, initially with plans to ship out the units in December 2017. After postponing the release of the GTBX-100 a few times, they’ve announced that they’re finally ready to begin taking orders for the GTBX-100 mass-production model from October 11 and will begin shipping them out on October 15.
Gatebox’s GTBX-100 is a virtual home assistant similar to Google Home or Alexa, except it’s tuned to be much more human. The virtual assistant takes on a cute humanoid hologram form inside of a capsule with clear windows, where she lives. You can supposedly interact with Azuma Hikari as if she were a real person, or even like she’s your wife (don’t worry, I won’t judge). In the initial promotional video for the Gatebox unit, it shows Azuma sending the user text messages throughout the day and welcoming him home. The mass production model promises this level of communication, as well as the ability to have everyday conversations. The voice synthesis for Azuma is shockingly real, and the natural qualities in her phonetics have been tuned perfectly to keep the illusion of her being possibly sentient. Conversations with Azuma are intended to feel considerably natural, and it seems she’ll prove to be a worthwhile companion for the price tag of 150,000 yen ($1,392 USD), with a monthly “living expenses” fee of 1,500 yen ($14 USD).
Line Corporation, the Tokyo-based subsidiary of the South Korean internet search giant Naver Corporation, acquired Gatebox back in early 2018. Line Corporation then contributed their Clova A.I. platform to Gatebox. Before the acquisition, the A.I. character Azuma Hikari would directly give you information about the weather and such, as shown in the 2017 promotional video. However, after the integration of Line’s character Clova, when the user asks Azuma a question about the weather and such, Azuma asks the question to Clova, who then provides the answer, with commentary from Azuma. This makes for interaction between three parties; the user, Asuma Hikari, and the Clova robot, and it’s surprisingly natural. I think it allows Azuma to present as even more human, especially with the contrast of an “actual robot” third party being present.
I can’t find much information on the web about it, but the GTBX-100 was initially delayed in December 2017 when units were scheduled to ship out in January 2018. The initial price of the home assistant was the equivalent to $2,500 USD, a bit of a hefty price to pay for a product whose purpose was to tell you the weather and turn your lights on and off. Gatebox presumably took some time to improve the product more, after Line Corporation acquired Gatebox the same month the units were first scheduled to ship out. Line Corporation and Gatebox set a new release date of roughly October 2018 for the GTBX-100. However, the company then decided to temporarily stop taking pre-orders and again delay the release date in order to further improve the product. And now, finally, after nearly two years of waiting for the reveal of the finished A.I assistant, Otaku and enthusiasts alike will be able to meet their wife.
A lot of Western publications are calling the Gatebox unit “creepy” and saying it’s a sad compensation for loneliness. However, I disagree. The GTBX-100 is an impressive move forward in A.I. technology and its practical use in daily life. Virtual assistants such as Alexa have become more normalized over the past couple of years since the Gatebox was initially announced, so it’s possible the Western media will have a different opinion of the invention once it’s finally released. The creator of Gatebox aimed to “create a wife”, and amazingly, investors began funding his vision. The envisioned wife, Azuma Hikari, has a really sweet backstory too:
“Hikari volunteered as the first alternate dimension traveler and came from a different world of the future through Gatebox.
I will behave happily to become a bride who can heal the master who works hard in this world.
Please enjoy life with Hikari.”
Gatebox is holding an event on October 12 and 13 where you can try out the new GTBX-100 units and talk to Azuma Hikari herself. It’s a free event, and there will be staff present that can answer any questions you have about the product. They’ve stated that photos are totally allowed and that they’ll be revealing what appears to be three other characters that you can summon into your GTBX-100 instead of just Azuma Hikari. The event will take place in Koto, Tokyo, at an event space called HYPERMIX. You can find out more about the event on their official website.