Professor Einstein is a 14.5" Wi-Fi-connected robot, now available to the public. Professor Einstein is a 14.5" Wi-Fi-connected robot, now available to the public. Professor Einstein is a 14.5" Wi-Fi-connected robot, now available to the public. (Photo: Hanson Robotics)

Why this Einstein robot has to be your new personal assistant

New device can walk, talk, answer science questions, tell you the weather and even stick out his tongue.

It's always nice to have a little help around the house. But what if you could employ the assistance of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century?

That's the idea behind a new robot modeled after Albert Einstein. Called Professor Einstein and standing at just over a foot tall, this personal assistant does more than just tell you the weather and keep track of your schedule. With built-in Wi-Fi, it has access to brain teasing games, and can answer math problems and science questions. Ask him about the theory of relativity and he'll go on for a while. You can even ask the robot to tell you a joke.

With natural language speech processing, you can actually interact with Professor Einstein and have a regular conversation with him. And because the robot is connected to the internet, its abilities and intelligence are constantly being updated with more information.

To help get the perfect replica of Einstein, the Hong Kong-based tech company Hanson Robotics turned to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the home of the Albert Einstein archives. "We worked very closely with them to bring the product to market," the company's Dr. Jeanne Lim told From the Grapevine. Perusing through troves of Einstein photos, they built the robot to have 50 different facial expressions – from furrowing his brow to sticking his tongue out, based on an iconic photo of the famed physicist.

They collaborated with Andy Rifkin, a noted toy inventor who has spent time at Mattel and Warner Bros., who had helped bring to market a talking Winnie the Pooh. "He has a really great track record," said Lim.

The Einstein robot was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and was quickly hailed by those who saw it. "He became one of the breakout stars of the convention," wrote Melia Robinson on Business Insider. "Crowds mobbed the company's booth during demos to catch a glimpse of the little guy." USA Today called it one of the coolest techs to come out of the conference.

"Technology is often now very cold and socially isolating," explained David Hanson, the co-founder of the company behind the new robot. "By bringing an animated character into our physical world, we're humanizing the technology instead of dehumanizing the humans."

The inside of the Professor Einstein robot and the finished product.The inside of the Professor Einstein robot and the finished product. (Photo: Hanson Robotics)

Research shows that we connect more with robots that take on human form. A reporter at CES pointed out that when she encountered the robot, she instinctively stretched out her hand to pet Einstein's hair, something she wouldn't – or couldn't – do with Apple's Siri.

And speaking of Siri, the new Einstein robot follows recent trends of other voice-controlled home assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google's Home. Israel-based Intuition Robotics just unveiled a home robot that helps the elderly stay in touch with their grandchildren through video calls and social media.

As for Hanson Robotics, the company has been building human-scale robots for over a decade. They made an android of science fiction author Philip K. Dick. Another one was privately commissioned by a husband who wanted a robot version of his wife.

As far back as 2009, Hanson was showing off a life-size Einstein robot that he had been tinkering with in his lab. Hanson's robot recognized and responded to emotion, and made expressions of his own. He showed it off during a Ted Talk, which you can see below:

But this marks the company's first commercially available product. "Professor Einstein is just the start," said Hanson, a former Walt Disney Imagineer. "This moment is the Kitty Hawk of androids. We're seeing the arrival of conversational robots that can walk in our world. It's a golden age of invention.”

His colleague Lim echoed those sentiments. "We look at it not as one off product," she told us. "Basically, were building a platform for personal robotics so you could imagine the characters could be different and the content can be enriched very frequently. It's so scalable, it's virtually unlimited space on this platform."

She said that everyone at Hanson Robotics are big fans of Einstein. "We look at him as not not just a scientist, but he's a rock star," she said. "He's a humanist, he's funny, he's just a really interesting character. And he's also smart. And we're creating genius machines. So he's the perfect personality for the robot."

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