Do you find your robotic servants to be a little cold? Your coffee machine prepares a fresh cup in the morning before you wake, but never says hello. Your Roomba diligently vacuums the floor but never listens to you. Well Jibo is here to help.
Jibo is a social robot, designed to interact with people. Social robotics has moved on somewhat since the furry, robotic, hamster-owl and must-have Christmas present of 1998, Furby. Although many of the fundamental features like voice recognition, learning algorithms, and dancing remain.
Jibo will twist around fluidly, bringing him to life. He will be able to see the world around him, recognise your face, understand what you’re saying and respond. He will use emotive clues to help him relate; for example he could see when you’re smiling or detect the tone of your voice.
It may have an unusual name, but Jibo is an American creation - the brainchild of roboticist Cynthia Breazeal, a leading figure in social robotics. Her design has already created a lot of hype, partly because it was crowdfunded into creation, raising a spectacular $3m in the process. That means there are already plenty of pre-orders and a heavy weight of expectation.
Whether Jibo becomes a beloved member of the family will rest upon a few things. For instance, an extension of Jibo’s currently limited features. Developers will be able to program apps for Jibo's dedicated operating system, but there will need to be enough flexibility and creativity to get the ball rolling.
These new features will have to find a purpose; otherwise they will not be able to replace smartphones, laptops and other existing devices that already provide almost instant access to information and cameras. Jibo needs to be more than a glorified Siri that helps mums to find recipes. His commercial success may well rest on his personality: bringing a sense of fun and wonder into the household that other devices can’t provide.
Jibo also needs to integrate with a lot of other technology. As the internet of things continues its slow emergence we can expect to see more hubbub over the “hub” – the central device controlling everything from your lights to your toaster. Companies like Samsung realise their Smart TVs may already be able to take on this role. Moreover, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to build his own home AI system. But Jibo could be a serious competitor and his edge will be his personality.
Below is a video of the automaton in action:
Jibo will first arrive in March or April 2016. He is currently out of stock, but you can join the waiting list. He will cost $749.