An Open-Source (and Cute) Alternative to Amazon Echo

Mark 1 is no Amazon Echo: it looks like an ’80s clock radio mashed up with WALL-E, and speaks with a robotic, bass-heavy British accent. But the startup behind it, Mycroft, hopes it has similar appeal to hackers, students, and companies who want a voice-enabled assistant that they can run on all kinds of devices and alter at will.

When it comes to voice-enabled digital assistants, there are plenty of them available these days—in addition to the Echo, which runs Amazon’s Alexa assistant, there’s Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google’s assistant. None of these is open-source, though, so even if developers can use it on various devices (like Amazon’s Alexa), they can’t go under the hood and change its code—ostensibly, to help improve it.

Mycroft—whose voice assistant, which runs on Mark 1, is also called Mycroft—isn’t trying to rival any of these big companies’ digital helpers, says CEO Joshua Montgomery. Rather, he says, the idea is to democratize the voice assistant—making it available and adaptable for everyone from kids working on school projects to companies that want to use open-source voice-enabled technology for a call center. While Mycroft will be free to individual users like consumers and developers, who can download it to run on things like computers and other devices, the company plans to charge enterprise users.

Mark 1’s LED face has a friendly look.

Mark 1, which is for sale online for $180, is a physical manifestation of what that can look like.

“We decided to give it a face and to make it cute and personable so people would use it,” Montgomery says.

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