Jibo Shouldn’t be Given up on Just Yet

If Jibo fails, it won't be because of shipping delays or cancellation of international orders. It'll be because it didn't live up to the hype it promised at the start.


Poor Jibo can’t do anything right anymore. Not even when it shows love for the 2016 Summer Olympics, which recently came to a close in Rio.

In the video above, the social robot is asked what events at the Olympics were its favorite. Jibo then goes through a cool animation, displaying the Olympic rings, completing two 360 degree turns, and showing its love for weightlifting (huffing and puffiing along the way), boxing (dodging multiple jabs), and either badminton or tennis.

Sure, the video most likely is displaying one-command recognition and a pre-programmed sequence of actions. But if Jibo can replicate this type of experience in your home, isn’t it the personality you fell in love with at the beginning?

Jibo getting into your home is a big if, I get it. Missing multiple deadlines and announcing that it won’t ship to backers outside the US and Canada any time soon is not a good look for the most successful crowdfunded robot ever, which raised $3,710,410 (2,288% funded) on Indiegogo when its campaign closed on September 15, 2014.

But this was a pretty harmless video, yet the comments on Jibo’s Facebook page are brutal. Here’s a sampling of what some backers had to say:

Jibo backers are not thrilled about the social robot’s love for the Olympics. (Credit: Jibo Facebook page)

I understand the vitriol from Jibo’s earliest backers who have patiently waited nearly two years and have nothing to show for it. But do people honestly think Cynthia Breazeal, the pioneer of social robotics, deliberately misled backers to get the project off the ground? I highly doubt it. Too much at stake for her. It’s more likely the company didn’t anticipate many of the technical and production challenges they’ve encountered, and for that, they should be criticized.

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Breazeal and others might have hoped a bigger company would have acquired Jibo, but the personal robotics industry is still in its infancy. Nobody has figured it out yet. Softbank’s Pepper humanoid robot started off as a consumer robot, too, but all indications of late point to Softbank positioning Pepper as a commercial robot that works at retail stores and can be sold at a much heftier price. Smart move if you ask me.

As an astute reader pointed out, there’s many parallels that can be drawn between what’s happening with Jibo and the early PC days when software (and hardware) companies would pre-announce products promising features and delivery dates they couldn’t make. Creating a social robot isn’t as simple as throwing some senors and motors together with a cute design and some speech recognition software. If it was, it would’ve been done successfully by now.

Jibo MoorebotJibo and Moorebot look like long lost twins.

Jibo is facing more competition by the day. Not only is there Amazon Echo, which is much cheaper, and the announcement of Google Home, but there’s a new Jibo knock-off called Moorebot that is nearly 200% funded on Indiegogo with one month left in its crowdfunding campaign.

Clearly, people want a social robot. And from Pepper to Jibo, Buddy, Aido, Xenbo, Moorebot and many others, companies are trying to figure this out. There will be many failures before it’s figured out, and Jibo very well could end up a failure. But at least Jibo isn’t in a rush to get the social robot out the door. That would be their biggest mistake.

Some of the decisions Jibo has made were extremely difficult and damaging to the brand. But if Jibo fails, it won’t be because of shipping delays or cancellation of international orders. It’ll be because it didn’t live up to the hype it promised at the start.

Again, that’s possible. But chances are you’ve never lived with a social robot. Certainly you can wait a few more months. If Jibo doesn’t ship by the end of 2016, then we can talk.




About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.




Comments

Steve Crowe · December 15, 2016 · 5:20 pm

@colorfinger, i hate to agree with you, but you might be right. although they did just raise a bunch of money lately. why wouldn’t investors give up on them? try to recoup their cash somehow?

colorfinger · December 15, 2016 · 12:07 pm

“If Jibo doesn’t ship by the end of 2016, then we can talk.” Does that mean it’s time to give up on JIBO now, then?

CodeMonkey2k5 · August 25, 2016 · 12:33 pm

@Steve Crowe - The promised difference between Jibo and Echo was that with Jibo you were talking with a character.  And also unlike Echo, Jibo could initiate a conversation in certain circumstances.  To have to open skills would break character.  We were also told that we wouldn’t be locked to “Hey Jibo” activations.  In fact in the SDK there is a pull down box for what you are listening for, but right now “Hey Jibo” is all that is there. 

All that said, I’m now fairly confident that what we will end up with is exactly as you described.  And that is very upsetting.

Vexelius · August 25, 2016 · 10:32 am

Alright. I agree (and part of me hopes) that the Jibo team can deliver something after all this time, so that the backers’ and investors’ support doesn’t go to waste.

As for my reasoning for calling them “very promising robots” was the following:
- These projects are following the trend started by Jibo, without being a complete and obvious ripoff
- They have people with a background in robotics on board, not just a random team who says that they can do it.
- So far, they haven’t missed a deadline
- They have kept a certain standard of quality in their social media

But as you say, we can move on and see how this turns out in the end.

Steve Crowe · August 25, 2016 · 10:19 am

@Vexelius, you originally called them “very promising robots,” but we can move on. Jibo has raised $52-plus million from investors, so something will go out eventually. As to how well it works, we’ll have to wait and see.

Vexelius · August 25, 2016 · 10:13 am

That’s why I called them “promising alternatives”. They might become the next Jibo, or deliver what Jibo couldn’t. Only time will tell… Jibo has been in the works for 2 years, missed 2 deadlines and is still a lot of fancy words instead of a functional product.

My point is that, in any case, even if Jibo fails there will be other teams to pursue the same concept, so there’s no need for worrying for it. It’s OK if people give up on him. (In fact, it should, so that it might become a lesson for future crowdfunding campaigns) It can be pronounced dead and buried, there will be another project that will take its place.

Steve Crowe · August 25, 2016 · 10:06 am

@Vexelius Buddy’s been in the works for nearly a year now and, from what I see, is still only available for pre-order. Supposed to ship in November, so let’s see. Check out the comments on Buddy’s Indiegogo campaign, very similar to comments from Jibo backers:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/buddy-your-family-s-companion-robot-family-social#/comments

And NXROBO was supposed to launch a Kickstarter this summer and ship by the end of 2016. But it hasn’t even launched the crowdfunding campaign yet. It’s currently in draft mode so that they can get feedback. So, again, a lot of fancy words on a page and nothing to show.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/759625594/745547812?token=232b0ade

Steve Crowe · August 25, 2016 · 9:41 am

@CodeMonkey, it’s kind of the same with Amazon Echo, no? You have to prompt the “skills” or “apps” before they work. Which, I agree, is a pain in the butt. To order a Domino’s Pizza, for example, you need to say, “open Domino’s” or “open Domino’s and place my easy order.” Maybe there’s a way around having to do this, but that’s not apparent to the average person.

Vexelius · August 25, 2016 · 9:31 am

Technology limitations are challenged every day. In fact, if people trusted that the current limitations of AI could be improved with the Jibo project was precisely because of Cynthia Breazeal’s career. She was selling an idea, with the promise of bringing it to reality and had the background to make it possible. Her team also has Roberto Pieraccini, who has been making breakthroughs in speech recognition for decades. They were supposed to be able to handle this.

Contrast with Amazon Echo, a device that only promised to control devices with your voice. Not meaningful conversations or “social” interaction. And it delivered, because its premise was simple, yet innovative. That’s why it has been a commercial success.

BlueFrog Robotics’ Buddy and NXROBO’s Big-I are the alternatives I was referring to. They have a similar premise to Jibo, while featuring more functionality over looks. At least they can move around in a house.

CodeMonkey2k5 · August 24, 2016 · 9:41 pm

The biggest problem with these videos is that they are missing a major function that is critical to the success of Jibo.  That is the ability to move between skills.  For example:
“Hey Jibo, turn on the kitchen light.” Then “Hey Jibo lets order a pizza.”  Both tasks can easily be done by Jibo right now with a little code.  But Jibo’s abilities are broken in to separate programs called skills.  Right now you can only run one skill on Jibo at a time.  Until this is addressed, Jibo is useless. 

Steve Crowe · August 24, 2016 · 8:09 pm

Well, we’re a long way off from having a robot you can naturally talk to. I don’t fault Jibo for that at all, it’s a limitation of the current technology. Have you ever tried talking to Amazon Echo? For all its praises, that thing is really unnatural to talk to, and it’s sold, at last check, more than 3 million units.

And I agree it doesn’t really matter. Jibo, Amazon Echo, Moorebot, or any other social robot aren’t necessities. What are the other robots you’ve referring to as very promising?

Vexelius · August 24, 2016 · 5:38 pm

What made people feel in love with in the first place was the promise of a true AI: A robot you could talk to in a natural way, making you feel that you’re interacting with a sentient being instead of a machine. A robot that could hold a conversation with you, that cared for you and your family. The latest video only shows a machine doing a trick when it’s triggered.

While I admire your positive view on things, Jibo is failing both as a company and a product. And not only for the reasons you have already stated. There’s another, very important issue that is becoming its downfall: Transparency. People trusted in the team, giving them money to pursue the development of this robot. Why can’t they reciprocate this by telling the truth about the current development status? People can and will understand missing deadlines if there’s a reason behind it. But when the company took strange measures and tried to explain them using vague arguments that were promptly disproven by various members of the community, and even when trying to “set up things right” acts in a shady way (seriously, a bank cheque for all international backers?) it’s inevitable that people will get angry.

It’s OK if people gives up on Jibo. Even if the company disappears and the project gets scrapped… It doesn’t really matter, as there are two or three very promising robots that have a better chance to do what Jibo couldn’t. A social robot is a natural step in the evolution of AI and consumer robotics, and it’ll happen someday, even if it’s not made by Cynthia Breazeal.


Vexelius · August 24, 2016 at 5:38 pm

What made people feel in love with in the first place was the promise of a true AI: A robot you could talk to in a natural way, making you feel that you’re interacting with a sentient being instead of a machine. A robot that could hold a conversation with you, that cared for you and your family. The latest video only shows a machine doing a trick when it’s triggered.

While I admire your positive view on things, Jibo is failing both as a company and a product. And not only for the reasons you have already stated. There’s another, very important issue that is becoming its downfall: Transparency. People trusted in the team, giving them money to pursue the development of this robot. Why can’t they reciprocate this by telling the truth about the current development status? People can and will understand missing deadlines if there’s a reason behind it. But when the company took strange measures and tried to explain them using vague arguments that were promptly disproven by various members of the community, and even when trying to “set up things right” acts in a shady way (seriously, a bank cheque for all international backers?) it’s inevitable that people will get angry.

It’s OK if people gives up on Jibo. Even if the company disappears and the project gets scrapped… It doesn’t really matter, as there are two or three very promising robots that have a better chance to do what Jibo couldn’t. A social robot is a natural step in the evolution of AI and consumer robotics, and it’ll happen someday, even if it’s not made by Cynthia Breazeal.

Steve Crowe · August 24, 2016 at 8:09 pm

Well, we’re a long way off from having a robot you can naturally talk to. I don’t fault Jibo for that at all, it’s a limitation of the current technology. Have you ever tried talking to Amazon Echo? For all its praises, that thing is really unnatural to talk to, and it’s sold, at last check, more than 3 million units.

And I agree it doesn’t really matter. Jibo, Amazon Echo, Moorebot, or any other social robot aren’t necessities. What are the other robots you’ve referring to as very promising?

CodeMonkey2k5 · August 24, 2016 at 9:41 pm

The biggest problem with these videos is that they are missing a major function that is critical to the success of Jibo.  That is the ability to move between skills.  For example:
“Hey Jibo, turn on the kitchen light.” Then “Hey Jibo lets order a pizza.”  Both tasks can easily be done by Jibo right now with a little code.  But Jibo’s abilities are broken in to separate programs called skills.  Right now you can only run one skill on Jibo at a time.  Until this is addressed, Jibo is useless. 

Vexelius · August 25, 2016 at 9:31 am

Technology limitations are challenged every day. In fact, if people trusted that the current limitations of AI could be improved with the Jibo project was precisely because of Cynthia Breazeal’s career. She was selling an idea, with the promise of bringing it to reality and had the background to make it possible. Her team also has Roberto Pieraccini, who has been making breakthroughs in speech recognition for decades. They were supposed to be able to handle this.

Contrast with Amazon Echo, a device that only promised to control devices with your voice. Not meaningful conversations or “social” interaction. And it delivered, because its premise was simple, yet innovative. That’s why it has been a commercial success.

BlueFrog Robotics’ Buddy and NXROBO’s Big-I are the alternatives I was referring to. They have a similar premise to Jibo, while featuring more functionality over looks. At least they can move around in a house.

Steve Crowe · August 25, 2016 at 9:41 am

@CodeMonkey, it’s kind of the same with Amazon Echo, no? You have to prompt the “skills” or “apps” before they work. Which, I agree, is a pain in the butt. To order a Domino’s Pizza, for example, you need to say, “open Domino’s” or “open Domino’s and place my easy order.” Maybe there’s a way around having to do this, but that’s not apparent to the average person.

Steve Crowe · August 25, 2016 at 10:06 am

@Vexelius Buddy’s been in the works for nearly a year now and, from what I see, is still only available for pre-order. Supposed to ship in November, so let’s see. Check out the comments on Buddy’s Indiegogo campaign, very similar to comments from Jibo backers:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/buddy-your-family-s-companion-robot-family-social#/comments

And NXROBO was supposed to launch a Kickstarter this summer and ship by the end of 2016. But it hasn’t even launched the crowdfunding campaign yet. It’s currently in draft mode so that they can get feedback. So, again, a lot of fancy words on a page and nothing to show.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/759625594/745547812?token=232b0ade

Vexelius · August 25, 2016 at 10:13 am

That’s why I called them “promising alternatives”. They might become the next Jibo, or deliver what Jibo couldn’t. Only time will tell… Jibo has been in the works for 2 years, missed 2 deadlines and is still a lot of fancy words instead of a functional product.

My point is that, in any case, even if Jibo fails there will be other teams to pursue the same concept, so there’s no need for worrying for it. It’s OK if people give up on him. (In fact, it should, so that it might become a lesson for future crowdfunding campaigns) It can be pronounced dead and buried, there will be another project that will take its place.

Steve Crowe · August 25, 2016 at 10:19 am

@Vexelius, you originally called them “very promising robots,” but we can move on. Jibo has raised $52-plus million from investors, so something will go out eventually. As to how well it works, we’ll have to wait and see.

Vexelius · August 25, 2016 at 10:32 am

Alright. I agree (and part of me hopes) that the Jibo team can deliver something after all this time, so that the backers’ and investors’ support doesn’t go to waste.

As for my reasoning for calling them “very promising robots” was the following:
- These projects are following the trend started by Jibo, without being a complete and obvious ripoff
- They have people with a background in robotics on board, not just a random team who says that they can do it.
- So far, they haven’t missed a deadline
- They have kept a certain standard of quality in their social media

But as you say, we can move on and see how this turns out in the end.

CodeMonkey2k5 · August 25, 2016 at 12:33 pm

@Steve Crowe - The promised difference between Jibo and Echo was that with Jibo you were talking with a character.  And also unlike Echo, Jibo could initiate a conversation in certain circumstances.  To have to open skills would break character.  We were also told that we wouldn’t be locked to “Hey Jibo” activations.  In fact in the SDK there is a pull down box for what you are listening for, but right now “Hey Jibo” is all that is there. 

All that said, I’m now fairly confident that what we will end up with is exactly as you described.  And that is very upsetting.

colorfinger · December 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm

“If Jibo doesn’t ship by the end of 2016, then we can talk.” Does that mean it’s time to give up on JIBO now, then?

Steve Crowe · December 15, 2016 at 5:20 pm

@colorfinger, i hate to agree with you, but you might be right. although they did just raise a bunch of money lately. why wouldn’t investors give up on them? try to recoup their cash somehow?


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