Robotics Pioneer Yoky Matsuoka’s Panasonic Company Launches Personal Assistant Service in Seattle

Yoky Matsuoka, a former University of Washington computer science professor who has led new tech companies at Apple and Google, runs a new Panasonic company called Yohana, which is launching a new personal assistant subscription service from Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Yohana)

Yoky Matsuoka is known for her pioneering work in neurorobotics, helping humans by connecting the central nervous system to the central processing unit.

But even in the emerging age of artificial intelligence and robotics, his new venture shows that human helpers still have a vital role to play.

Sorry, Alexa, you’re not quite there yet.

The former tech leader of Google and Apple, who won a MacArthur Genius Award in 2007 as a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, directs a new $ 149 / month personal assistant service called Yohana. The service pairs each subscriber with a living, breathing human known as “Yo Assistant,” whose job it is to help them cross items off their to-do lists.

Yohana, an independent Panasonic subsidiary founded and run by Matsuoka, launches its service Thursday, exclusively in the Seattle area to begin with.

“It’s probably not the robot you thought I could build,” Matsuoka admitted, smiling after revealing the blueprint in a recent video chat with GeekWire. “We’ll get there.”

But make no mistake, this is still a tech company. In addition to her app and service, Yohana has focused heavily on developing technological tools and behind-the-scenes data repositories to make PDAs “superhuman,” as Matsuoka puts it.

The technology is designed to help each personal assistant benefit from the experiences and ideas of the work of others as they tackle common tasks on behalf of different Yohana members.

Yo Assistants, a mix of entrepreneurs and employees, will be supported by in-house researchers, subject matter experts and a network of service providers, according to the company. The monthly membership fee covers the cost of the personal assistant. Members will bear the additional cost of any services an Assistant arranges through external providers.

The Yohana app connects subscribers with personal assistants. (Photo courtesy of Yohana.)

Yohana will compete with a range of personal assistant services and independent markets, ranging from established companies, such as Time etc and Upwork, to smaller local service providers.

The emphasis on behind-the-scenes technology is one of the ways Yohana seeks to differentiate herself. For its Seattle launch, the company also offers unlimited personal assistant services, unlike competitors who charge based on how many hours an assistant works with the subscriber. Other available levels will become available as Yohana deploys in different cities.

The goal is to help busy parents and families with the heavy lifting of planning a getaway, finding a dog groomer, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, arranging a repair of the dog. home appliances, coordinate a home improvement or any of the millions of other things that parents need to do. It was developed especially for moms, although by no means is it limited to them.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., Yohana surpassed 100 employees in August.

Matsuoka will continue to live in the Bay Area, but Yohana’s launch in Seattle is nonetheless a homecoming, reconnecting her with the city where she developed some of her greatest breakthroughs, including an advanced robotic hand designed to help people with disabilities. .

The company chose Seattle as its launch market after extensive research, she said, based on factors such as the growing population of tech-savvy professionals, frequent cross-pollination of people between Seattle and the Greater Montreal area. bay, as well as the shared time zone. A waiting list is available for other cities.

Yohana is an outgrowth of Matsuoka’s work in health, wellness, and assistive technology, inspired in part by her own experience as a mother of four.

Yoky Matsuoka was a professor at the University of Washington from 2006-2011 (Photo courtesy of Yohana.)

Matsuoka most recently worked as vice president of Google’s healthcare group, having served as Nest’s chief technology officer, leading the development of its iconic learning thermostat, and before that, co-founded and led innovation for the Google X research and development organization.

She left her position at Google Healthcare at the end of 2019 to become CEO and founder of what was then known as Yo Labs, an independent subsidiary of Panasonic which has since changed its name to Yohana. The goal was to create technology to help families, leveraging Panasonic’s hardware expertise.

Equipment and associated services are still part of the long-term plan, but in the meantime the pandemic has created different priorities.

Like many working parents, Matsuoka faced a whole new set of challenges last year, on an even greater scale. His own experience trying to juggle the new business and his YokyWorks Foundation crystallized the vision and put the company on a new path.

“It all fell apart, to be honest,” she said. “I was almost like going crazy, thinking, how am I going to handle this?” Then I realized that so many other women were going through the same thing. … We have to take care of basic needs first, then we will grow.

Yoky Matsuoka will be a guest speaker at the upcoming GeekWire Summit, taking place October 4-5 in Seattle and online. Details and tickets.

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