Jibo, touted as the world’s first social robot companion, and has been developed for family home companionship. Jibo was co-founded by Cynthia Breazeal, of the Rodney Brooks social robotics lab at MIT. Public and global interest in Jibo is enormous as evidenced by Jibo securing $3.7 million dollar in pre-order sales on the fund-raising website Indiegogo by December, 2015.
A social robot is a bot designed to engage its human user in an emotional way by expressing empathy and the ability to read the emotional state of the human users around it. The design of Jibo includes two high-resolution stereo cameras, six microphones, a pair of speakers, an LCD touch screen, two cooling fans, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, LED lights, touch sensors, and an ARM-based embedded processor running Linux. Jibo is a little taller than a toaster, and is shaped a little bit like a desk fan or table lamp. The body consists of three roughly cylindrical sections, one each for the base, torso, and head, respectively – which connect at an angle rather than horizontally. The result is that rotating these sections relative to one another causes the body to appear to bend into a variety of expressive poses. Jibo recognizes (remembers) faces it encounters, understands what people say, and is able to respond in a friendly manner. According to VP of design, Blade Kotelly, four design techniques contribute to Jibo’s empathic and engaging character:
- Spoken phrases, body animation, screen animation, light ring to show motivation, tone and state of being.
- Text-to-speech and sound effects: “Instead of saying I love you, maybe he can make a sound.”
- User experience interactions: “If you have a robot in your home that is making mistakes and you say, ‘F- You,’ maybe he’ll look sad, lean down, and say ‘I’m very sorry.’ Then you think, ‘I don’t want to do that to this robot.’ Maybe that’s good in your home because then you build up those attitudes where you don’t say those things to each other.”
- Synchronized physical movement, screen animation, and voice:
“Once you have that synchronization, a very little bit becomes very effective […] This is not what happens with a cell phone.”
Jibo’s main purpose is to assist busy families coordinate with one another and to communicate with the outside world. For example, at the start of the day, Jibo may remind its family of important events and tasks scheduled for the day. Family member can also tell Jibo about new and emergent tasks/appointments that need to be accomplished, and Jibo will in turn, update the family schedule or to-do list accordingly. Jibo can also be a photographer, it can help with home security, it can read stories to your children, it can be a learning companion for your children, and it can help you maintain an exercise program.
Although enthusiasm for Jibo is high, at present Jibo’s functionality is quite limited prompting some to ask if the price of the device is good value for the money spent. In addition to at least one distribution delay, recently Jibo announced that international orders will be cancelled entirely for the time being due to voice recognition challenges in foreign (to North America) countries. Like most voice recognition technology, this means connecting to a server to process the data the robot “hears”. Jibo found that the US-based servers would cause sever latency issues for international users, exacerbating Jibo’s struggle to understand accented English and contributing to a substandard experience.