Nothing stirs the loins of a true geek more than robotics, so it was a real treat to come across a story of a robot that is actually much more social and family-oriented than your average candidate for Real Steel. Jibo was unveiled to the world yesterday and is the brain child of MIT professor Cynthia Breazel. Standing 11 inches tall, Jibo is unique among robots you may have seen before in that he is a supreme communicator and listener, surpassing our expectations of what a robotic entity can do, say and understand.
In the long term, Jibo will be a lot like an artificial companion, something we may have imagined in a sci-fi movie, combining an altruistic and caring persona with a friendly and even quirky personality. For today however the project is geared towards creating a robot that acts as your personal photographer, messenger and even storyteller. The quirky personality is almost there too.
Indeed at launch Jibo will have a somewhat limited scope compare to the eventual end vision. The robot will help as a personal assistant for those of us who are not as technically savvy as other members of the family – we are talking about an electronic device that communicates with the elderly and the young, relating information from the Internet via his Wi-Fi connection including email, calendars, and messages. There’s also more intimate communication through apps like Skype which can use Jibo’s cameras, speaker and circular LCD screen.
But Jibo also brings content to life, being able to not just play video content or show images and photos on its cylindrical screen, it can also read to you, becoming that personal storyteller you always wanted when you were a child. Indeed Jibo the social robot is very much aimed at families and children using its six inbuilt cameras to listen and then interact.
Check this awesome video which really shows the full potential of Jibo:
Just as Cortana and Siri offer an interactive experience via a smartphone or tablet, Jibo takes that one step further, offering a much more lifelike and personable interaction that might even feel a tad creepy at first. Its sensor array can track faces, allowing its motorized swivel head to follow you around the room and address the speaker in a much more natural way, plus facial recognition means it will actually remember who is who and know who it is talking to. There are even touch sensors that allow communication via touch.
Jibo CEO, Breazel currently heads up a crack team of engineers, developers and robot science experts from various technical backgrounds, and is an expert herself in creating computer technology that understands and interacts with humans, especially infants and children. Jibo doesn’t move about the home, but its moving LCD panel does move around and feature a moving orb which is specifically designed to express emotion.
Even though the target market is families and children, Jibo will also be marketed as a household digital companion employed to help people interact with the digital world they are connected to, reading out mail, messages, voice messages, the weather, schedule reminders and virtually any other aspect of our digital lives that is available in the cloud.
It is hoped that Jibo will be available as a commercial product in December 2015. The start-up is aiming for a price of around $499. If you want to one of the first to get hold a Jibo robot, and you want to help fund its development, you can donate a $100 or more on Indiegogo and sign up for the $499 Jibo Home Edition.
I think Jibo looks like having a decent chance of becoming one of the first commercially viable robot products that I predict we will see arriving in our homes in the next decade. This is certainly one of the more realistic and convincing Robotics projects I have seen for sure.