Of the many exciting consumer gadgets launched at CES 2024, the Rabbit R1 stood out as one of the most innovative and potentially game-changing devices.
While many products announced during the largest trade show in the sector seemed like slightly updated versions of the same devices people know, this machine felt like the beginning of something new.
The R1 belongs to the new category of AI-native devices, which are the physical manifestation of the artificial intelligence revolution of the past two years.
Priced at just $199, the little device (about half the size of a regular phone) allows users to perform most of the tasks they do on regular phones by just using voice prompts. The device includes a small touch-screen, a speaker, a microphone, camera, SIM-card slot and is Wifi and Bluetooth compatible.
In recent times, there has been an exponential growth in the capacities of generative AI tools, which can now produce completely original text, images, video and audio. Yet up to now, Large Language Models (LLM), which are the underlying technology in generative AI tools like ChatGPT, could only produce information, but could not interact with the world.
In other words, generative AI tools have no agency. Rabbit founder and CEO Jesse Lyu believed he’s here to change that. Lyu said the company’s mission has been to create the simplest computer in the market.
“Something so intuitive that you don’t need to learn how to use it,” said Lyu in an introduction video for the R1 device launched in the context of CES 2024.
The privately held company has so far raised $30 million in two rounds.
Powered by what the company is calling a “Large Action Model,” Rabbit promises the R1 can do anything such as play music, call an Uber, edit a spreadsheet or find a nice simple recipe for whatever’s in a refrigerator.
The model, which is the underlying technology for the device, is multi-modal, meaning it can work seamlessly between text, voice and images, and can also be interacted with via email.
The device intends to break away from the current “app-based” system that mobile devices such as iPhones and Android phones are based upon and replace it with a natural language model that allows the user to perform the same tasks by just talking to the device.
Lyu argued the many apps users have in their mobile devices make the modern phone experience confusing, slow and unintuitive. Having to scroll through dozens of apps to find the one that performs one simple function (like calling a ride or shopping in a store) can become a hassle.
Moreover, “our smartphones have become the best devices to kill time, instead of saving it,” says Lyu, adding that the most downloaded apps today are entertainment-based.
While the tech founder is not expecting the R1 to replace the iPhone immediately, if the device delivers on its promise, it very well could.
Rabbit’s Large Action Model is based on the insight that most human-machine interaction happens through a visual interface. If an artificial intelligence is able to understand these interfaces, it is then able to perform any action on behalf of the user.
This allows the company’s model to “trigger actions on behalf of users across all environments,” including iOS, android and desktop.
“In short, the Large Language Models understand what you say,” says Lyu, “but the Large Action Model gets things done.”
For more complex actions the device includes an experimental “tech mode,” that allows users to show the device how to perform an action, which the R1 will learn to execute under a voice command in the future.
The device also features a camera to take in and process information from the outside world (à la Google Lens).
So far, the closest competitor to the R1 is the AI Pin, by Humane. The AI Pin, which launched in November last year, has no screen and can be ordered at a starting price of $699, with a monthly subscription of $24.
Older devices with similar use propositions (like Amazon.com, Inc.‘s AMZN Alexa), failed to deliver their promise, said Lyu, as they were not AI-native devices. They’re also not portable.
In comparison to the AI Pin, Rabbit’s R1 costs a third of the price and can perform similar functions out of the box, without the need for a subscription.
The Rabbit R1 is available for pre-orders and will start delivering by Easter 2024.
Photo: Courtesy of Rabbit Inc.