self-isolating to stop the spread of COVID-19 (corona virus). In order to skip
these lengthy meetings, a technologist has built what he calls a “Zoombot” to
double as his doppelgänger. Although the invention is a bit tongue-in-cheek the
Zoombot doesn’t really blink and uses a robot voice it’s a great example of the
creative gymnastics that are possible with video conferencing tools.
First, in the wake of the COVID-19 (corona virus) pandemic, the world
collectively embraced the video-conferencing tool because it fosters human
connection (hello, virtual happy hours!). But then, employers started
bombarding workers with non-stop video meetings, and we rapidly became aware of
the myriad security concerns that come with using the app. But every
moment in time needs its hero, and that’s where Matt Reed comes in. The
creative technologist at redpepper, a marketing design firm in Nashville, has
introduced an AI-powered “Zoombot” that can sit in on video
calls for you.
when Reed noticed someone on Twitter (jokingly) complaining they don’t have
time to go outside anymore because they’re always on Zoom calls. At
some level, the project is tongue-in-cheek; Reed isn’t a developer by training,
and he doesn’t claim to be. His AI doppelgänger is a little slow to respond, it
doesn’t really blink, and it uses a robotic voice similar to voice
assistants like Siri or Alexa. But that’s the point.
didn’t really mean for it to be anything … but I showed it to a few people at
work and they started laughing,” Reed says. “I was like, ‘This is the
kind of thing the world needs right now.'”
himself in Quicktime looking quizzical, confused, opening his mouth, and
smiling, and took screenshots. When these images cycle through, it almost looks
like Reed has a poor connection and he programmed his bot to say as much.
built a custom HTML web application that uses an open source library
called Artyom.js to listen and respond to prompts. This is what does the brunt
of the work, processing audio that comes in through the microphone. Reed had to
manually configure it to listen for certain phrases, like “hello,”
and programmed his application to run commands after hearing certain phrases.
will then start running the hello command, and that will be actual text-to-speech
and will trigger that British robot voice to speak that phrase,” Reed
says. “And it can say anything that you want it to.”
chatbot or an Alexa voice skill. Chatbots are programmed to understand certain
inputs and run commands based on those keywords to give some written response.
But both chatbots and Reed’s Zoombot are prone to errors due to the natural
variability in human language.
speaks as thus; “You have to account for variations. When anyone says
‘hello,’ for the same command it can listen for ‘hello,’ ‘hi,’ and ‘how are you
and this is what I LOVE about the internet, talented & clever humans you’ve never met taking things to the next next level ? @Adnan_aga https://t.co/5KgzFJLC8a
— Matt Reed (@mcreed) April 7, 2020
called ManyCam, Reed set up a virtual webcam, using his web app as the source.
This creates a video input you can set your Zoom webcam to use, rather than an
actual live feed coming through the lens. Reed successfully launched his full
prototype after just one morning’s worth of work, he says.
Zoombot out into the world, many developers have hopped onto his original idea,
perused his GitHub code repository, and made improvements. If you want to take
a stab at creating your own Zoombot, head over to Reed’s Github account,
where the full repository is open source.