The future is apparently here. And it’s creepier than we ever imagined—even when we were playing around with tethering Teddy Ruxpin to the Internet. A Japanese company called Vinclu (“a company that makes crazy things and supports crazy people”) is now taking pre-orders from Japan and the United States for a new interactive, artificial-intelligence driven home automation system. Called Gatebox, the new Internet-of-Things product takes Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Spike Jonze’s film Her, and the “holographic” anime characters of Vocaloid concerts to their unified natural conclusion.
Gatebox, priced at ¥321,840 (about $2,700 US), is squarely targeted at young lonely salarymen and all brands of anime-obsessed otaku—promising the experience of “living with your favorite character.” The size of a home coffee-maker, with a footprint no larger than a sheet of A4 printer paper, the device’s main feature is a clear projection tube that displays a computer-animated avatar for the AI’s “character.” Vinclu apparently is planning multiple possible personalities for Gatebox—which, as part of the device’s backstory, is a gateway to the dimension the character lives in.
Gatebox interacts with its owner via its animated persona, responding to voice interactions. It can also send and receive text messages when its “master” is not at home, interacting in some ways like a…domestic partner. And the Gatebox can also control smart-home appliances, such as lights and robotic vacuums—so when you get home from work, your holographic waifu will have the lights on for you and will have done the cleaning.
The first character, named Azuma Hikari, is “a comforting female character that is great to those living alone,” Gatebox’s website proclaims. “She will always do all she can just for the owner.” Voiced by Japanese actress Yuka Hiyamizu, the character has her own website with a backstory manga that explains how she was invited to cross dimensions for a “homestay” with a master on Earth. “Enjoy this unprecedented jump between dimensions that will result in a new, shared lifestyle,” the Gatebox site promises.
A hint of what that “new, shared lifestyle” would look like is teased in Gatebox’s product launch video: