Jibo The Friendly Robot Could Be Your Next Platform
Written by Lucy Black
Friday, 18 July 2014
We keep waiting for the robot revolution - no not that robot revolution, the one where robots help around the home. Now an MIT Media Lab roboticist has gone to the crowd for some funds to build Jibo, the friendly and hopefully helpful robot.
It is a dream, or perhaps a nightmare. Robots become so socially adequate that we treat them as friends. Now Cynthia Breazeal has put together a robot, a company and an Indegogo campaign to build a robot that is social and helpful and all for $499.
Think Siri on steroids.
The best way to see the idea is to watch the promo video:
You can see that Jibo is not a complex piece of hardware. Its moving parts are made to be cute rather than make you a cup of coffee and tidy the house. This is designed to appeal to human's "pet" instinct so that the little guy becomes part of the family. The voice is warm, cosy and helpful - in the video at least. The real world Jibo might be a very different matter.
The hardware is an ARM processor with a pair of cameras, microphone array and touch sensors on its body to let it respond to a tickle or a poke. It communicates with the outside world via WiFi and there is an optional battery pack that might keep it going for 30 minutes.
The key to making it all work as shown in the video is the software. Jibo is not the first attempt as an emotional robot - you could argue that AIBO, Sony's robot dog was the first. Even Nao is so cute that humans forgive any small error like falling over and the most recent is Pepper from Aldebaran.
There is no doubt that socializing a robot is difficult to get right, but it is not AI. Humans, however, will lend their intelligence to any non-intelligent agent that can appeal to them. By treating Jibo as a friend we are willing to read into what it says much more meaning and intelligence than is actually there - we do it with animals and much dumber machines than Jibo.
The question is can Jibo mange to employ enough sophistication to convince the user that it is an intelligent agent rather than a misunderstanding machine. The first time Jibo makes the sort of mistake that Siri was so celebrated for then the whole illusion falls apart - unless we don't want it to.
What is interesting is that the face-tracking software lends the machine a level of human interaction that hasn't been possible until recently. What is more the application where it acts as a telepresense enabler might be enough for users to give it house room. It might be Jibo's killer app.
On the other hand what when Jibo videos you doing something you would rather the world didn't see, takes the first compromising photo or reads out an embarrassing message while there are other people in the room or.. you make up your best Jibo disaster story.
There is a lot of work to be done to even get a small fraction of the behaviors demonstrated in the video working well enough to be acceptable.
Could Jibo be your next platform?
If you want a development system then you can have one for $599.
At the time of writing the $100,000 goal has been reached six times over with the total at $522,424.