Travel executives react to Rabbit AI agent device

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Born of a collaboration between startup Rabbit and Swedish consumer electronics
company Teenage Engineering, the Rabbit
R1 is a “pocket companion” that aims to break away from the app-based operating
system.

With no
apps and only a 2.88-inch touchscreen, a touch-to-talk button and a rotating
camera for computer vision, the palm-sized, bright orange device acts as an artificial
intelligence voice assistant similar to Alexa – playing songs, making bookings
and retrieving information for its user through a single channel instead of via
multiple apps.

It can even edit images on Photoshop.

“I think Rabbit R1 gives us a glimpse of a new
type of man-machine interaction where the agent gets things done for us by
learning to use human interfaces and tools instead of APIs designed for
machines,” said Ross Veitch, CEO and co-founder of Wego

“What I find interesting is that they’ve
developed a new type of foundation model, which they call a ‘Large Action Model,’
which has been pre-trained on human interactions with apps and websites. They
claim their LAM is significantly more efficient at figuring out UIs [user
interfaces] than LLM [large language]-based models,” he added.

Indeed, at the heart of the R1 lies Rabbit’s
custom AI operating system. Unlike chatbots that generate text responses,
Rabbit’s LAM generates actions on behalf of users, such as online grocery
shopping or booking transportation, without the need for custom integrations.

While the R1 is positioning itself as the “antidote”
to the smartphone, it’s clearly not for everyone. 

“Rabbit doesn’t solve anything important for
travel other than automating the booking process,” said Bobby Healy, CEO and
co-founder of Manna Drone Delivery. “And it isn’t the booking process that’s
hard – it’s the evaluation process.”

Healy elaborated further, “The Rabbit UI won’t
cut it. Travel, particularly hotels, but also flights, require a ton of
subjective evaluation and collaboration when it comes to leisure. A three-inch
device does not deliver a good presentation of those options. Sure, the LAM is
a good idea for robotic tasks, but when it comes to solving the highly involved
process of planning a trip, I don’t think it’s going to replace the desktop or
phone.”

Omri Morgenshtern, CEO of Agoda, is also skeptical
about R1’s application in hospitality. 

“The biggest problem is people won’t trust an
automated assistant to pick the right options for them or to know them well
enough,” he said. 

“It’s about educating the customers and having
super strong personalization. I don’t think Rabbit solves any of that. Will you
let Rabbit order from a menu for you if you go to a new restaurant or will you
want to see the menu?

“Eventually, if done right, and if it can
simulate the way a human personal assistant works, like it knows you very well,
you learn to gradually trust them over time, and it takes over simple tasks for
you and gradually grows … then it can save a lot of time. And it can take the
level of personalization to the next level, especially as it can potentially
access more personal data than a travel website.”

Simplicity is a double-edged sword

Rabbit’s CEO, Jesse Lyu, emphasized the
company’s vision for “the simplest computer” during a CES keynote. Its
simplicity, however, may be the reason why it’s not being touted as a “smartphone
replacement,” but rather an “alternative” to the smartphone.

Quote

I think Rabbit R1 gives us a glimpse of a new type of man-machine interaction where the agent gets things done for us by learning to use human interfaces and tools instead of APIs designed for machines.

Ross Veitch – Wego

When asked about the benefits of a gadget like
R1 over a smartphone, Healy replied, “None that I can see. Just another
subordinate device for those that love toys. Ultimately, every android and iOS
phone will get a native LLM (and LAM) and that will be it; lots of dead
rabbits.”

“AI doesn’t require a new OS or hardware,”
echoed Morgenshtern. 

“The strongest one you know is ChatGPT, and you
can run it on your phone or computer. The more interesting question is what’s
stopping us from becoming assistants? That’s the trust issue. And the fact that
for some things, the visual scroll-and-click is actually faster and more
convenient than chatting with an assistant. The jury is still out about the
right interface.”

Unlike conventional assistants, the R1 is a
standalone device and does not require connection to a smartphone. Priced at
$199, the R1 will be trained to work with popular apps, with plans to add more
functionalities over time. Users can also train their own agents or “rabbits”
on niche apps, showcasing the device’s adaptability and versatility.

For Wego’s Veitch, it all boils down to
function and utility value. 

“A personal travel assistant should be able to
do for you anything a good travel agent could,” he said. “Research stuff for
you, give you recommendations and options, ask you to qualify or narrow down
your request where needed, ask you to confirm then go ahead and make the
booking or reservation using your pre-saved payment credentials, traveler information,
loyalty memberships.

“Once done, it should add it to your calendar.
As you approach the free-cancellation date it should prompt you and ask if you
want to proceed or not. It should email or chat with the hotel ahead of
check-in to re-confirm the booking, make sure the loyalty number and status is
on file and then pass along any special requests like preferred room type,
pillow types, non-smoking preference. Between booking and departure, it should
look for better deals and automatically cancel and rebook,” added Veitch,
outlining the criteria of a successful digital assistant.

Adoption, adaptation and replication

The obvious trajectory for any groundbreaking
device is for its tech to be studied, adopted and then applied to existing
devices and gadgets. 

“Large OTAs will all do demos, like Kayak’s
ChatGPT plugin. Translating demos into a real business for this domain doesn’t
make sense,” Healy said. 

“For assistants, you need to apply a ‘Is this
a feature that Apple or Google will ultimately embed?’ And if the answer is
yes, it’s going to be very hard for Rabbit and similar makers to survive long
term. I mean … why did they even do hardware? Rabbit is a software product, and
for some reason they decided to try and compete with smartphone OEMs [original
equipment manufacturers].” 

Similarly, Veitch believes Rabbit’s road to
dominance of the mobile device market is already quite complex. 

“iOS and Android are the dominant smartphone
platforms that you’d want to target, and there are legal and technical
restrictions that limit the extent to which any app can interact with other
apps on the platform. Rabbit seems to get around this by running apps in
emulators on virtual machines in the cloud. A user has to access a web portal, ‘The
Rabbit Hole,’ where they log into their accounts with Gmail, Uber, Expedia,
Doordash … after which presumably the tokens are saved and used for future
sessions by Rabbit OS.”

This is where, Veitch said, replication is
possible.

“By building their own hardware, Rabbit is
bypassing Apple and Google’s app store terms and conditions. I suspect very
soon we will see Rabbit-like functionality added natively to iOS and Android,
probably via Siri and Google Assistant. The companies that control the
operating systems of our mobile devices are in the best position to add a layer
that automates interactions with third-party apps.

“Additionally, they already have our payment
credentials, travel history, search history, brand preferences, email and a
bunch of other data on file, which can be used to personalize an assistant.”

How far does this rabbit hop?

Since its unveiling at CES, the Rabbit R1 has
gained remarkable popularity, with over 30,000 units pre-ordered and in the
pipeline. The first two batches have already sold out, prompting the company to
open a third batch, scheduled for delivery between May and June 2024.

As screen addiction and social media continue
to cause smartphone fatigue in some user segments, alternative, minimalist
devices like the R1 could address that gap in the market. The device is already
proving to be a viral success, but whether or not it has widespread
applications across different industries, like travel and hospitality, remains
to be seen.

*This
article originally appeared in WebinTravel
.

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