The New Addition Every NYC Family Needs


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…

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is the Founding Partner of Autonomy Ventures a New York based venture capital firm focused on seed stage investments in robotics, autonomous mobility and artificial intelligence. He has spent the last twenty years building and selling ventures, including: Holmes Protection to ADT/Tyco, Americash to American Express, and launching RobotGalaxy, a national EdTech brand. Oliver has been investing in the robotic industry for close to 10 years, with four successful exits in his angel portfolio in the past two years (including 2 IPOs). He is also a member of New York Angels and co-chairs the Frontier Tech Committee.

As father of five, Oliver launched RobotGalaxy in 2006 to fill a personal need: he wanted a wholesome activity for his son. RobotGalaxy’s patented toys were a national phenomena available at Toys’R’Us, Nordstrom Department Stores, and online that connected to a virtual world and library of mobile apps.

Before RobotGalaxy, Oliver was involved in a number of successful technology ventures and real estate developments. Oliver was part of the executive team of Softcom/IVT, an interactive video startup backed by Allen & Co., Intel Capital (NASDAQ:INTC) and Sun Microsystems. At IVT, Oliver was instrumental in expanding the market for their products with such leading broadcasters as HBO, Showtime, and Home Shopping Network.

Prior to IVT, Oliver was a founding member of AmeriCash, Inc., a network of ATMs in high traffic retail locations. AmeriCash was acquired by American Express (NYSE:AXP) within 32 months of operations. Oliver was also instrumental in the development of Holmes Protection and its sale to ADT/Tyco International (NYSE:TYC). Oliver has extensive background in merchant banking and advertising. He started his career at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners.

Oliver holds 14 patents and has appeared on numerous television shows, including: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray. He also serves as a mentor on the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator Fund, and advises many technology companies on their growth strategies including Greensight Agronomics and Que Innovations.

Oliver is also the publisher of the well-known robotics blog Robot Rabbi and is in the midst of writing a book entitled, “An Innovator’s Field Guide: Taking Ideas From Zero to Hero.”

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