The evolution of the smart home assistant is here. And it can dance.
It’s been three years since Jibo made its global debut on Indiegogo as a crowd-funded project. The Boston-based startup raked in more than $3 million for the promise to create an 11-inch-tall countertop robot: A family assistant that can distinguish between different voices and faces, with an adorable personality to boot.
Now the creators of this home companion are finally ready to launch it to the public, taking orders at Jibo.com. It costs $899 (roughly £690 or AU$1,170) and ships Nov. 7. That’s a hefty price for a home assistant that can’t yet play music. Or make calls. Or set reminders.
The Jibo team says those features and more will be added over time through software updates. Meanwhile, Amazon and Google are offering their smart assistant-powered speakers for a fraction of the price at $50 (roughly £40 or AU$65). These assistants won’t swivel their body when you ask them to dance, but they can load up a Spotify playlist — a command that would stump Jibo.
But that’s because Jibo was never designed to be a simple speaker. The team invested more development into his personality and how he would react to different family members. (Yes, Jibo is officially a “he.”) Jibo’s founder and chief scientist, Cynthia Breazeal, is an MIT professor who spent her career researching ways computers can interact more naturally with humans. That’s why this stationary, 6-pound bot is downright charming out of the box. He’s packed with witty banter, bubbly animations and a rotating body and head that makes him seem more… alive.
Jibo’s round body and head both can rotate to make it seem like he’s looking around a room. His “face” is simply an animated, bouncy dot displayed on a 5-inch screen.
Jibo has two cameras on the front of his head, which can be used to identify up to 16 people. Jibo will turn his head to face a sound and listen to who is talking in the room. If he detects motion, he will scan to see who it is and greet that family member by name.
Jibo also reacts to touch. Placing a hand on top of his head will silence him. (A hand near his head also makes him purr.) And like typical assistants, you’ll need to say a wake phrase (“Hey, Jibo”) to get his attention before asking a question or giving a command.
This hands-free buddy can act as a photo booth at a party, snapping group shots on command. He can also read the latest news and sports scores.
Jibo does some other basic assistant tricks such as telling you the weather, setting alarms and giving light-hearted answers for any weird question a kid may come up with (“Are there any monsters in here?” “Do you like bugs?” “How many days until Christmas?”) He’s also able to control some smart home devices using IFTTT commands.
Jibo looks similar to, teased earlier this year. In fact he was first pitched as a concept back in 2014, with — but his release has been pushed back year after year. You’ll note that the most recent update on his launch to the Jibo YouTube page was posted in April 2016. At that point he was expected to ship in October 2016.
Fast-forward a year later, and Jibo is finally available to buy. Early units have been sent out to developers and Indiegogo backers. A few have also been sent out to YouTube personalities, in the hopes of convincing their viewers that a cute robot pet is a must-have for any kitchen counter.