Alexa talks to you through a disembodied robot head at CES 2019

Alexa, why do you have such a terrifying face?

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
2 min read

Nothing like listening to Alexa speak to you through the mouth of a purple-eyed robot head!

Rich Peterson/CNET

At CES 2019, there were a lot of robots waiting to chat to you, but Alena was probably the most haunting and terrifying. 

Designed by Oregon startup Robomodix, Alena is a robot designed to create a more human interface between you and your smart speaker. The robotic bust has six digital motors inside that move its head, eyes and mouth with a malleable silicon face stretched over the top. (It's apparently the same silicon you'd find in a kitchen potholder, which I guess is reassuring? Maybe?) 

The robot takes input from your Echo speaker and, based on the frequency of the audio, moves Alena's mouth to replicate speech. Ask your Alexa about the weather, or whether androids dream of electric sheep, and your answer comes out of the mouth of Alena. 

Watch this: Alexa can now speak to you through a robot head

Part iRobot, part Princess-Mombi-head-in-a-cabinet, Alena the robot is uncanny. But it's amazing how quickly you feel like you're talking to something more human than just a speaker. 

Robomodix says the robot has applications as a companion device or as a "connection" robot to help teach those with difficulties understanding human facial expressions (such as people on the autism spectrum). 

The company also believes it could be a good stepping stone as we start to move toward things like driverless cars in the future -- humans could be more accepting of an autonomous vehicle if there was a humanoid behind the wheel. Alena could well be your next Total Recall-style Johnny Cab in the very near future.

It might be weird talking to a robot head, but is that any weirder than having a conversation with the speaker sitting in the corner of your room?

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