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JIBO, a new social robotic appliance

July 22, 2014

MIT roboticist Cynthia Breazeal has launched a new company built around a sleek, minimalistic robotic appliance called JIBO.

Claimed (like many others before it) to be the world’s first “family robot,” JIBO stands about 28 cm tall and weighs 2.7 kg.  It sports a stereo color camera, microphones with sound localization, full-body touch sensors, and a touch screen face.  While not mobile, Jibo can twist in three axes.  The robot runs Linux on an ARM-based mobile processor (probably similar to a Raspberry Pi).

Since the robot can’t move around the house or manipulate objects, it exists primarily for social interaction, much like Keepon, Shimi (which we covered here), or the much larger and more articulated Pepper.  Demo videos (which are currently staged using preprogrammed responses) show JIBO greeting you when you come home, adjusting the lights, and helping you order dinner.  It also serves as a telepresence platform, and can shoot photos and videos (though if it can actually understand commands from across the room in the middle of a noisy party, I’ll be surprised).

The robot is clearly resonating with the public: an Indiegogo campaign to raise $100k has already raised over a million dollars, with 25 days still to go.  Backers can expect receive a pre-ordered JIBO in late 2015; the public release is expected in 2016.

To be honest, there’s nothing JIBO does that’s particularly new — but maybe that doesn’t matter.  The first iPods didn’t do anything particularly new either; they just did it better, with a cleaner, simplified design that appealed to a wide audience instead of just to geeks who love technology.  Perhaps JIBO can do the same for robots.

As robotics hobbyists ourselves, I think this new rash of social robots should be a bit of a wake-up call.  We’re used to thinking of robots as, at a minimum, something on wheels or sporting an arm.  Perhaps that’s because social interaction is hard to do well, and quickly disappointing when done poorly.  But it’s no reason not to try.  I’d love to see more hobbyists building robots whose primary purpose is not to push around (or destroy) other robots, or lift heavy objects, or even navigate around buildings, but just to be there for you, like a pet.  Play music, shoot photos, recognize faces, carry on a simple conversation — these things aren’t as hard as they used to be, and as JIBO’s campaign shows, this stuff is fertile ground for exciting the public.

See the pitch video below for an introduction to JIBO.


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