HAL 9000 is the original suspicious digital assistant. Before we invite Alexa, Google, and Siri into our lives to surveil our every action there was 2001: Space Odyssey’s HAL, an AI so murderous it’s a wonder anyone saw its actions and thought, “you know, not all of this is bad.” But despite the fact that HAL gave us a dozen reasons why trusting computers is dangerous, it’s also, admittedly, really cool looking. So naturally, Master Replica Group has created a near perfect prop reproduction of HAL 9000 for anyone to purchase, and because the company has an affection for functional props, HAL 9000 is also a Bluetooth speaker.
At $600 (£458), the new HAL 9000 is priced only for the people who really like HAL. Unlike other prop replicas that have a technological gimmick, MRG’s prop doesn’t appear to be a cheapy grab. The speaker is officially licensed from Warner Brothers, the design is based on the original prop from the movie—with the designers studying key scenes and notes from the film as well as the original props—and it’s constructed in a similar fashion to the original (minus the Bluetooth speaker). That fidelity to the original design means cool things. For example, the lens in the original HAL prop was a Nikon lens attached using a traditional Nikon F-mount, so the reproduction uses a cheaper lens but still has the same F-mount (theoretically you could unscrew it and screw in any old F-mount lens you have on hand). The speaker itself, in the demo we were provided, sounded perfectly average, but the design was slick enough to give me a little gadget envy.
Yet the real star of the show is the optional Command Console, which raises the price to an outstandingly high $1200 (£915). It is, just to be clear, appealing only to people with a deep passion for 2001: Space Odyssey and people with way too much money. MRG is also limiting production to just 2001 units. But man, this pricey prop is neat as hell. The wall-mounted panel has magnets that let the speaker slot into place. You then gain access to a bright 10.1-inch display with animations meticulously reproduced from 2001. Press a button and you can talk to HAL (the microphones currently require a physical press of a button to start listening), asking it questions that allow you to essentially play-act scenes from the film. Ask to play a game and a slick chess animation appears. Press another button and HAL murders the crew. (Kidding!)
It’s goofy fun that doesn’t warrant the price tag, but MRG’s enthusiasm for its device and its hope for the future of the panel makes it a little more interesting for those of us with only a middling obsession with 2001. “It’s the first prop reproduction you can actually update,” a rep for the company told Gizmodo. Software updates will come over the internet and provide new functionality over time. Anticipated updates to the panel include possible support for voice assistants (think Alexa or Google Home), as well as the ability to connect the panel to your smart home.
There are cheaper ways to control a smart home or get Alexa. There are even more affordable wall panels that will ship with those promised features instead of just being hinted at for future updates.
But you’re not paying to be on the bleeding edge of technology. With this HAL 9000 reproduction, you’re paying for the cool factor of inviting a gorgeous murder bot into your home. Other options will be cheaper and smarter, but this panel will almost always be prettier.
If that appeals to you, the Indiegogo launched yesterday, with the speaker discounted to $420 (£320) and the bundle including the panel priced at $900 (£686). MRG currently ships a very adorable HAL 9000 reproduction in USB storage drive form, so it’s reasonable to assume it should hit its shipping promise of early 2019 for the bluetooth speaker. However, as with all Indiegogo campaigns, invest in this ambitious product at your own risk. [Indiegogo]