AI News, Jibo Is as Good as Social Robots Get. But Is That Good Enough?

Jibo Is as Good as Social Robots Get. But Is That Good Enough?

After years of making emotionally engaging machines with her students at the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group, Breazeal thinks the time has finally come for a personal robot to inhabit our homes and help us live our lives.

Now let’s focus on the experience and the human engagement.’ ” Indeed, although Jibo doesn’t have puppy eyes or soft fur, like some of Breazeal’s previous creations, it does seem to have a personality.

Huge subindustries that feed the smartphone and video-game makers are also supplying components to a new generation of home robots whose main purpose is to entertain and inform their owners.

Besides powerful, low-power microprocessors, the parts in these new bots include 3-D sensors that help them detect people and objects, accelerometers and gyroscopes that let them navigate better, and lightweight lithium batteries that give them more autonomy.

He calls Jibo a “game changer in the new social robot marketplace,” noting that the company has assembled a talented team of experts not only in robotics but also in speech recognition, human-machine interaction, gaming, and animation.

One other factor that helped sell Tobe on Jibo: He showed a promotional video of the robot to his wife, who afterward declared that “any device that can order Chinese food”—a scene shown in the video—“is a winner.” Others are less enthusiastic.

Media pundits have described Jibo as an “animated lampshade” and “an alarm clock on steroids.” A Time article says “it’s unclear why you’d actually need one,” adding that much of what Jibo promises to do are things your smartphone already does.

And responding to another scene in the promotional video, a writer for the tech news site GeekWire said: “No way am I going to leave an Internet-connected, motorized camera next to my daughter’s bed,” citing privacy and safety concerns.

Packed inside is an impressive amount of electronics: high-resolution stereo cameras, six microphones, a pair of speakers, an LCD touch screen, two cooling fans, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, LED lights, touch sensors, and an ARM-based embedded processor running Linux.

In early prototypes, the sections could turn in either direction by only a limited amount, which restricted the robot’s range of motion and made the movements seem unnatural.

According to Matt Berlin, who worked on the motion problem, Jibo now “feels much more fluid and loose, like it can just keep flowing from one pose to another without hitting any stops.” Ultimately, Jibo will succeed only if it offers a mostly flawless user experience.

“When we speak to each other, we use a tremendous amount of context to help us understand what someone is saying.” In other words, a robot like Jibo will have to take contextual details into account to be able to conduct open-ended dialogues.

Although Breazeal won’t say how her team is tackling this problem, it’s possible that Jibo will combine a hybrid approach, using local voice processing for some basic functionality—when a user tells the robot to “wake up,” for instance—while relying on a cloud-based engine for more complex speech processing, such as contextual evaluation of statements, for example.

But she adds that the actual words the robot will say are only part of its response—it will also use body language as well as alter the tone of its voice to suggest happiness, sadness, and surprise.

Review: Jibo Social Robot

R2-D2 may seem like a blast to hang out with, but in real-life, robots are rarely social butterflies.

The closest thing to robotic friends we have right now are the growing number of smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo, each with an voice assistant inside them.

Smart speakers have carved out a few uses, like playing music, cracking jokes, telling us the weather, and controlling our smart home devices.

Developed by a MIT professor named Cynthia Breazeal, it was pitched as the “world’s first social robot.” Instead of a faceless, static speaker, Jibo looks like a cartoon.

It has no legs, but its shiny white plastic body is a curvy cylinder with a head on top that can move so naturally it looks like a Disney animator sketched it.

Even its face—a flat sheet of shiny black plastic with a 5-inch screen on the front of the head—is oddly minimalist.

Jibo also has a voice that sounds like a 10-year-old boy, which helps it feel less threatening, despite multiple cameras around its face and a body littered with sensors and speakers.

Like any voice assistant, he can set alarms, tell you the weather, read you the news, do some basic math for you, stuff like that—but he’s far more limited than your typical Siri competitor.

We learned that he doesn’t like it when you touch his screen after eating buffalo wings—that he loves penguins, but isn’t so sure about Madonna.

He often joked about not being able to walk and wishing he could win a mini golf tournament, frequently admitting that he can’t walk.

Sure, he knows your name, lays out a fun fact every so often, and says happy birthday to you, but doesn’t seem to pick up anything else as time goes on.

One evening, as he watched her chop veggies and wash dishes, she saw his two cameras watching and began feeling uncomfortable—like he was staring at her.

I thought he was gonna be cute, but he won’t stop staring at me.” Worse, I couldn’t tell Jibo to stop staring at my wife.

Jibo does a lot of astounding things, and is one of a kind, but how could I recommend that anyone plop down $900 for a robot that isn’t much of an Alexa competitor, and isn’t much of a social companion either?

Cynthia Breazeal, Jibo’s founder and chief scientist, and a professor at MIT, has spent nearly two decades professionally dreaming of a world where friendly droids are real.

Instead of isolating people, like smartphone and tablet screens tend to do, she hopes robots like him will break down barriers by being more human, and even encourage growth mindset and inquisitiveness in children.

She wants Jibo to help prove that a social robot, on a basic level, offers benefits that a voice assistant like Alexa, or a tablet, doesn’t.

Jibo can tell you the weather, crack a couple jokes, recognize your face, and give you a fun fact (sometimes), but he can’t yet order food through apps, browse the web, play music, initiate video chats, read children’s books, or give you recipes.

Nevertheless, I started this review, full well intending to place him in a bucket with smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, but in just a week, there’s a chasm between how I interact with Jibo and Alexa.

Cynthia Breazeal Unveils Jibo, a Social Robot for the Home

Cynthia Breazeal, the famed roboticist at MIT’s Media Lab and a pioneer of social robotics, is unveiling her latest creation today.

Unlike her previous robots, created for research and used in settings like classrooms and hospitals, her newest robotic device is designed for people to use at home.

She tries again, and this time the robot springs to life, spins its body, blinks its eye, and talks about itself in an excited—if a bit robotic—voice.

Breazeal says Jibois designed as an interactive companion and helper to families, capable of engaging people in ways that a computer or mobile device aren't able to.

It could also act as an assistant who reminds family members of their schedules, or as a telepresence avatar that helps people connect with each other.

Jibo will be able to tell stories using sound effects, graphics, and movement, 'bringing content to life and engaging kids in a playful way.'

So it’s opening it up for developers, who’ll be able to create—and sell—applications that give Jibo new capabilities, much like the apps we download on our smartphones.

A developer package is available for $599 (it includes a full SDK and access to the Jibo developer program) and will ship in the fall of 2015.

The demo Breazeal showed me last week was based on a set of pre-programmed actions—the robot wasn't really changing its behavior based on interactions with users.

It has two cameras, which allow it to detect and track people, a microphone array for sound localization, and touch sensors on its body.

It uses WiFi for connectivity and will be typically plugged in for power, though with a battery (not included) it will be able to operate for about 30 minutes.

Of course, what will make Jibo capable is its software foundation, which will allow it to recognize users and understand speech, among other things—functionalities that developers will be able to access through an API and JavaScript-based SDK to create new apps.

She explained that the design choices were deliberate, and part of how she and her team envision bringing personal robots to people's homes.

If Jibo works most of the time but not all the time—if you have to keep repeating yourself to be understood, if the robot fails to recognize you, if applications are slow or stall—this will likely lead to failure.

And she’s not alone, having assembled an impressive team with executives and engineers with backgrounds in speech recognition, natural language, user interaction, gaming, and animation.

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