Monday 16 April 2018

Mycroft Mark II: The Open Source Answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home That Doesn’t Spy on You

If you want a smart speaker cum virtual assistant like Amazon Echo and Google Home that doesn’t spy on you, Mycroft Mark II is what you are looking for. The open source device is open for pre-order via its crowdfunding campaign.

This is the era of virtual home assistants. From setting alarms to get weather information, from playing your favorite music to play Netflix for you, these virtual assistants do it all. You just need to call their name and ask them the questions. You don’t even have to be nice to them, not that it hurts. All you need is a device that uses these virtual assistants.

Big names like Amazon, Google and Apple have their own virtual assistants coupled with their own smart speaker devices. The year 2017 has seen a big jump in the sales of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home. And the trend will continue upward.

As a tech enthusiast, I wanted to buy Echo or Mini to experience this kind of gadget trend. But there is a big problem with these smart devices and that’s privacy.
Amazon Echo and Google Home listen to you and record everything you say. It was reported that these devices listen to the conversations, even when they are not active.Moreover, Amazon will soon be using these devices to serve you ads. Imagine asking the device for the weather information and it tells you what kind of umbrella people are buying.On the other side, Google can never be trusted with your data.So, what do the privacy aware people like you and me do?

Thankfully, we have an open source virtual assistant called Mycroft. It doesn’t violate your privacy, it is open and customizable. You can get the source code of Mycroft on GitHub.Mycroft also has their own set of smart speakers range called Mark.They have just launched a new crowdfunding campaign for its upcoming second-generation smart speaker Mark II (read Mark 2). Unlike the previous model, the Mark II is a vertical device and resembles Google Home.

Mark II is technically advanced than its predecessor. While the first version was more focused on developers and DIY enthusiasts, Mark II has been matured to become a consumer-ready product.

Hey Mycroft, What can Mark II do?

You can use it for creating shopping lists, playing music, telling jokes. You can also use it to play internet radio on Pandora and NPR or even YouTube.

It can also be used to control Philips Hue, the smart lighting from Philips.All you need to do is to say “Hey Mycroft” and your virtual home assistant Mark II will be at your service.New ‘skills’ are being added to an active developer’s community. You can discover those new ‘skills’ by asking it “what’s new today”. You can, of course, get the updates from Mycroft website.

Not just audio! Mark II has a screen as well

Want to know the time or the weather, it’s simply on the display. This is a good candidate to replace your digital clock or radio.You can customize the looks of the screen, its display color etc. Cool, isn’t it? Mycroft doesn’t store every voice snippet it hears. It deletes the recordings as they come in.Your data is safe by nature. It won’t result in you seeing ads on the internet about pizza just because you asked it about the best pizzeria in town.You can, of course, opt to share your data for the improved development of Mycroft but this is NOT enabled by default.

Mycroft Mark II Technical Specifications

Here’s what Mark II is made of:
  1. Xilinx quad-core processor
  2. Far-field 6-microphone array
  3. Hardware AEC, beamforming and noise reduction
  4. Stereo sound with dual 2″ drivers (10W)
  5. 4″ IPS LCD touchscreen
  6. USB Type A
  7. MicroSD card slot
  8. Bluetooth in
  9. Wifi
  10. 3.5mm audio out
  11. 18W power supply with international adapters
Mark II officially speaks English. It is claimed to be working in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, and German as well, but that’s in community mode for now.

Mycroft Mark II Pricing and availability

Mycroft has just launched a crowdfunding campaign. The initial goal of 40,000 Euro has already been achieved within a day.
Mycroft Mark II costs $129 and should be available in December 2018 for those who pre-ordered it via the crowdfunding campaign.

You can find more details Mark II and pre-order it on the Kickstarter page.

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