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.

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