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Say Hi To Jibo, The Social Robot Who Wants To Be A Part Of The Family

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal loves robots. She'd have to spend several decades of her life working out one of the most basic conundrums in modern-day robotics: the creation of a robot that can easily and intuitively live and work side-by-side with human beings. Although we've made a lot of progress in that regard - robots like Intel's Jimmy or EMIEW2 are just a few examples - we've a ways to go. Well...we did, anyway.

Breazeal today unveiled a robot which is the culmination of twenty years of research - Jibo. Billed as the world's first family friendly robot, the desktop droid is currently making the rounds on Indiegogo.  It's...curiously endearing in its simplicity, looking something like a combination between a lamp and "EVE" from the movie Wall-E (though it's definitely got more of the former than the latter). Its round base plugs into a standard AC outlet, and a cone-shaped midsection attached to a round head with a flat front. 

It looks pretty unremarkable...until it starts moving. Once the good doctor asks her creation to introduce itself, it springs to life, and its face lights up as its body swivels around to face her. "Hi," it chirps cheerfully, 'blinking' the single eye that appears on its screen, "My name is Jibo!" 

Breazeal refers to the way Jibo moves as "attuned reciprocity." The idea is that for something to really communicate with humans, it can't just be aware of visual cues - it needs to respond to them. It's something people do all the time, and it makes us feel more comfortable when whoever (or whatever) we're talking to does the same - even if we aren't immediately aware of it. 

 

With introductions out of the way, the robot offers its guests a little dance, moving with a surprising degree of fluidity as it does. Immediately after the dance, it then changes its 'eye' into a camera lens, explaining that it's able to capture and share special moments. Turning to face the doctor, its screen changes again, displaying images from a children's story as the little robot narrates. 

Once again, it's surprisingly agile for a stationary robot. 

Even better, all of this only scratches the surface of what Jibo can do. According to the robot's indiegogo page, the final model will be equipped with advanced voice processing and learning algorithms and capable of recognizing a wide array of different social cues (including touch via sensors installed in its head). Its two hi-res cameras can capture photos, enable immersive video calling, and track faces; software packaged with the robot will enable it to act as a personal assistant and messenger. It'll also be able to connect up to mobile devices, computers, and even other Jibos.

As I'm sure you've already noticed, Jibo doesn't suffer from any of the problems inherent in many humanoid robots - he's not even remotely terrifying to look at (unless you've a fear of lamps). That's because he doesn't try to be human. Even tholugh he's made to interact with human beings on an intuitive and emotional level, he doesn't even try trekking into the uncanny valley. He's not alone in that, either - every single consumer robot released in recent memory is designed to be 'cute;' to be attractive without trying to be something it's not.

The approach works - you can't deny that.

The final model will be much smaller and lighter than the prototype - which is relatively bulky in comparison. It'll stand at around 11 inches tall and weigh approximately six pounds. It's going to retail for around $400 when it finally hits store shelves; early donaters were able to grab a Jibo for $99 (that offer is now sold out).

I think it's safe to say that we're going to be seeing robots invading the home very soon. Devices like Jibo and Pepper are becoming more numerous with each passing day, and I've no doubt they're going to end up being the next big thing in consumer technology. The only question is which of them is really going to kick things off - is Jibo going to be the iPhone of consumer robotics, or will it be a different 'bot?