Published: Wed, October 10, 2018
Industry | By Kenny Hampton

Facebook launches AI video-calling device Portal

Facebook launches AI video-calling device Portal

Facebook has just introduced a pair of new communication devices that are aimed at bringing you closer to your friends and family.

"Privacy is very, very, very important", said Rafa Camargo, vice president of Portal.

London- Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is now dominated by Amazon and Google.

The 10-inch Portal will cost $199 in the United States, whilst the 15-inch Portal Plus will be available for $349.

Facebook is marketing the device, called Portal, as a way for its more than 2 billion users to chat with one another without having to fuss with positioning and other controls.

Called Portal and Portal+, the two devices are geared towards video calling and feature A.I. technology that can automatically follow a person as they move throughout a room and remove unwanted background noise during a call. The only time Facebook will send anything through its servers is after you initiate a "Hey Portal" command. Users also have two ways to cut off the camera: A button on the device "physically disconnects the camera and microphone", which can't be re-enabled through software alone, and a separate cover lets users block the camera lens itself. The AI used for the Smart Camera and Smart Sound features are also all happening locally, so you don't need to worry about your video calls being stored on Facebook servers. On top of that, a screen passcode lets you prevent unauthorized use. Portal will also have an advantage over Amazon and Google's smarthome devices, being able to call any smartphone that has Facebook Messenger installed.

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The speaker comes integrated with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant technology, which provides an always-listening service for initiating these calls amid other functions like setting reminders and ordering groceries. It will also show you photos and videos from your Facebook library.

The larger Portal+ has a 15.6-inch, 1920x1080 display that can be oriented vertically or horizontally. Portal connects calls through Facebook's Messenger app, meaning that it can connect calls with people who aren't using Portal. Facebook hasn't been the most forthcoming company when it comes to letting users know which data it collects and how it's using that data.

This uses the Portal's Smart camera feature to transform your face and voice into those of the story's characters, meaning you can still give your kids (or your pets) un-rivaled bedtime tales no matter how far away you are.

With that in mind, the cameras built into Portal are created to intelligently track you as you make your calls.

The Portal also sports Bluetooth, so it can play music when paired to a nearby device, but critically, like the Echo Show, it lacks official support for YouTube and other major streaming services such as Netflix. And to start the call, all it takes is: "Hey Portal". But even Facebook acknowledges there are privacy concerns. If the video call has multiple people in the frame, the camera shifts to a wide-angle mode, keeping everyone in its bounding box.

Earlier in the year, it was forced to admit that the personal data of tens of millions of users had been hijacked by Cambridge Analytica, a political firm working for Donald Trump in 2016.

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