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Perspective: Requiem For A Robot


Jibo is dead.  


Who or what is Jibo, you ask? Jibo was a robot. The world’s first family robot. He — and the device was gendered male — was the brain-child of Cynthia Breazeal, a social robotics pioneer from MIT.  


Like Alexa and Siri, Jibo was designed to be a hands-free digital assistant—answering questions, providing information, and controlling various internet connected devices around the house. But unlike other the digital assistants, Jibo moved. He didn’t walk or roll around, but he could twist and turn his chubby little robot body and make eye contact with you by way of a single cyclops-eye situated on the faceplate of his oversized head.  


Jibo had promise.  


Breazeal funded the project from a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, and people responded with enthusiasm. So what happened?  


First, shipment of the product was delayed and early adopters began to get antsy. When Jibo did begin shipping — in the autumn of 2017 — he arrived with a limited set of skills. So he was cute, but he could not do very much.  


Second, Jibo was expensive -- $800 expensive — and consumers were reluctant to commit to Jibo, when competing products were just a fraction of the cost.  


Finally, and because of all this, Jibo’s parent company ran out of cash and began laying off its workers and selling assets. So what’s the lesson from this first commercial venture into social robotics? People want something like Jibo. But making it work and making it affordable is not going to be easy. 


I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective. 


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