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Olly is the home robot pal who will grow to be just like you

Imagine if Alexa or Siri had tangible, bearable, unique personalities? Step forward, Olly -- the robot who evolves to suit you and your home over time.

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Katie Collins
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Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent

Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.

2 min read

There are smart home hubs and there are smart home robots, but where does the dividing line fall?

The key is a combination of personality, movement and interaction, according to Hongbin Zhuang, the London-based founder of social robot Olly.

Pointing to two Olly robots sitting side by side in Emotech's booth at CES Unveiled, Zhuang explains that where one Olly is whizzing around energetically responding to anyone and everyone who engages with it, its neighbour is more calm and reserved -- it only speaks when spoken to.

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This is the result of the robot's deep-learning capabilities that mean as your Olly gets to know you and your daily routines over time, it will evolve to become more like you and respond to the patterns of your life.

When it comes to what the robot can actually do, it is similar to Amazon's Echo or Google Home. It can respond to your questions by looking up information for you, and can control all of your smart devices and internet-connected products you may have around your home. Where it differs from its rivals is in its ability to be proactive. It could predict whether you might want to listen to music when you get home from work for example, as well as what you might like that music to be.

The original prototype of Emotech's robot featured a single eye, but testing suggested that while some users loved this feature, others did not. Now, Olly is a black donut that rises to greet you when you wake it and swivels to face you when you address it. It responds not just with voice, but with mesmeric light patterns that help it express itself.

The Olly we encountered at CES was still in prototype format, but following further user testing this spring, it should be available to buy later this year.

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