Humane’s Ai Pin promises the future of ‘ambient computing’ for $699 (plus $24 a month)

Here it is. completion months of hype, leaks and reveals, Humane has officially unveiled Ai Pin. The small device magnetically attaches to the wearer’s lapel, collecting data through an on-board camera. It is powered by Qualcomm chip and uses AI. Humane believes that one day it could replace your smartphone. It can be ordered on November 16.

It’s somewhat similar to Narrative Clip, the infamous lifelogging camera. The square device (or squircle, if you prefer) has a camera and microphone, along with depth and motion sensors, which collect data that is processed on-board by a Snapdragon processor. Voice control is at the heart of the product, as a logical next step from smartphone assistants like Siri. The pin communicates with the wearer through a “personal speaker” or paired Bluetooth headphones.

There’s no screen — that’s kind of the whole point, really — but there is a touchpad. The pin also reacts to gestures. Unlike many other products that promise to free us from our addiction to the screen, however, Ai Pin is designed to be used without a tethered smartphone. That comes through a Human branded wireless network built on top of T-Mobile.

The system runs on Cosmos (CosmOS?), a proprietary operating system with AI. The experience can be customized off-device using the Humane.center service. That’s an important bit, because the voice- and touch-only interface severely limits on-device customization.

“To manage and access your data, including photos, videos, and notes, Ai Pin connects to Humane.center,” the company notes. “This platform serves as a central hub for your device, ensuring a streamlined interaction from setup to everyday use. With the purchase of Ai Pin, users are invited to ride through a privacy-protected portal, allowing the device to tailor its services to individual preferences.

Some good news: Initial reports that the device will cost “up to $1,000” is gone (though not that off) — $699 is hardly a steal for an unproven first-generation product. And then there’s the monthly $24 subscription fee. Those are the three Hulu plans.

The level of hype surrounding a hardware launch is unprecedented. This, however, is very unusual for an unestablished company, reminiscent of the leading one to Project Ginger. Before the release of the device, an authority like Steve Jobs is reported to have predicted that it will change the way cities are built in the future. That product, of course, will be the Segway.

The language around the device and the accompanying press materials offered the kind of big, sensational promises we’ve become accustomed to around the Bay — world-changing technology that’s not much bigger than a matchbook. While the startup’s reported plan to launch during last month’s solar eclipse fell through (though the company’s X account is still full of mentions of the event), the company presented the launch with a level of gravitas that is typically the domain at Apple events.

There are no coincidences in this small world, of course. Humanity is deeply tied to Apple and trained in the ways of the so-called reality distortion field. Co-founders Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri — who serve as CEO and president — are former Apple employees. Their time at the richest company in the world is the foundation of the hype that has been bubbling over since last year.

Chaudhri spent 20 years as a designer at the company, before it was reported fired in 2017after sending an email citing 13th century poet, Rumi, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving inside you, a joy. Unfortunately, rivers dry up, and when they dry up, you look for a new.” Bongiorno spent eight years at the company, serving as director of software engineering for iOS and macOS, before leaving in 2016. Both likely knew Vision Pro during its long-term development.

Then there is the inconsequential exodus of former Applers. In the course of half a decade of the startup’s existence, somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 former Apple employees are reported to have worked or worked for a 200-person team.

The announcement comes quickly at a time of feverish excitement around generative AI, and the company is pitching its first product as an early use case for the large-scale language models that have captured the world’s imagination. technology.

Every tech company, from the smallest startups to the Googles and Apples of the world, is scrambling to find effective ways to incorporate these technologies into real-world products. The Ai Pin was, perhaps, the first prominent device to capture the zeitgeist in a meaningful way, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Sam Altman serving as your largest shareholder (with ~14% at last count) helps Silicon Valley bona fides, though recent report that the OpenAI CEO is quietly and independently working on what could be a direct competitor to the Apple design guru and “aluminum” pronouncer, Jony Ive.

Including Altman’s backing, Humane has raised $230 million, including a $100 million Series C announced in March. Investors include Kindred Ventures, SK Networks, LG Technology Ventures, Microsoft, Volvo Cars Tech Fund, Tiger Global Qualcomm Ventures and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff.

Investors are certainly bullish, but is the world ready to look beyond the smartphone? Humane is far from the first company to ask. There has been a lot of handwriting in the last decade about a world glued to the small screen, like scenes from a John Carpenter film. This, after all, is the promise of the augmented reality headset. Google promised such freedoms with Glass a decade ago in February.

Humane has positioned its own future vision as the polar opposite of what Apple showed the world with the Vision Pro in June – fully immersing itself in the screen or being released from it. The narrative certainly didn’t escape Humane’s internal Slack channel. According to a former employee who spoke to The Information“bashing” the headset is de rigueur for staff, ex-Apple or not.

It’s “spatial computing” versus “ambient computing.” Both terms have been floating around for a long time. Ambient computing, in particular, is an abstract enough concept that people often disagree on the details. This is due, in part, to the fact that it was created before the creation of the tools that would ultimately define it. Simply put, it’s technology that’s out of the way by design. It’s a network of devices that work so hard that you forget they exist.

For the past few months, Humane has tried to maintain its role as a secretive startup, while rationing a lot of information around the device. In May, Chaudhri gave a TED talk titled, “The Lost Computer: An Exclusive Look at Humane’s Screenless Tech.” He wore a black Ai Pin tucked into a black jacket, fielding a call from Bongiorno (the two are also married) to preview the device’s on-palm projection capabilities.

“In the future, technology will be both contextual,” he said from the stage, “and this means using AI to really understand you and your environment, to achieve the best results.”

In September, Ai Pin made a cameo on the lapels of models walking the Paris runway. Humane also gave Time Magazine a technology preview for the attaching of the 200 Best Inventions of 2023.

The company now offers a waitlist for those interested in the device. It comes in three colors: Eclipse, Equinox and Lunar.

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