We have already outsourced our chores to Roomba, but MIT’s Cynthia Breazeal suggests we need to hire robotic-nanny. I have 5 kids and a 90 lb. dog squeezed into a Manhattan apartment, but do I have room for another robot? To answer this we need to look closely at Ms. Breazeal’s unveiling of “the world’s first family robot” on Indiegogo and an all-star press campaign (including Katie Couric.)
According to the above video, Ms. Breazeal’s robot or Jibo promises to be the all-encompassing family house manager/baby sitter for roughly a week’s salary (in NYC). According to the promotional materials you can pre-buy a unit that will have a range of abilities, including telling stories to kids, automatically taking photos when you pose, messaging, video calling, providing reminders for calendar entries, and companionship through emotional interaction.
Jibo is about 11 inches (28cm) tall, with a 6-inch base. He (yes, it’s a he even though he looks like WALL-E’s girlfriend) weighs around six pounds (2.7kg) and is mostly made of aluminium and white plastic. Jibo’s face mainly consists of a 5.7-inch 1980×1080 touchscreen, but there are a couple of stereo cameras, speakers, and microphones hidden away in there, too. Jibo’s body is separated into three regions, all of which can be motor-driven through 360 degrees — and it’s all fully touch sensitive, so you can interact by patting him on the head, poking his belly, etc.
While its hardware is pretty impressive for $500, a companion robot is nothing without some really, really good software, and fortunately, it sounds like Jibo will deliver on that front as well. Jibo will recognize and track the faces of family members, allow for natural language input from anywhere in the room, help when it recognizes you’re doing a task that it can help with (i.e. cooking), and judging by the video, Jibo has some pretty nice speech synthesis software, too.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Jibo’s operating system (Linux-based) is being built from the ground up to be extensible with apps. Jibo will ship with a number of default apps — called “skills” — but there’s also an SDK that will allow developers to create (and sell) their own apps/skills to extend he robot’s functionality. For example, out of the box, Jibo will be able to tell bedtime stories to kids — but you might then download a third-party app that gives Jibo the additional ability to help kids with their homework.
While Jibo today is just a prototype (commercial release 2016), my original question still stands is this just another gizmo destined to join Aibo and Furby in the closet, or the next big thing…