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Cheery social robot owes it all to its inner Linux

Jul 16, 2014 — by Eric Brown 3,600 views

An MIT spinoff has launched an Indiegogo campaign for a $499, Linux-based “Jibo” robot billed as a social, self-learning companion for families.

Like SoftBank’s Aldeberan-built Pepper, the Jibo bot runs on Linux and is designed to communicate and interact with people in a social, human-like manner. While the $1,930 Pepper is dubbed an “emotional” robot, Jibo is referred to as a “social” robot, and sells for a modest $499, via its $100,000 Indiegogo campaign. The device is expected to ship to funders Dec. 2015, followed by a commercial launch in 2016.

Jibo prototype
(click images to enlarge)

Jibo emerged from research done by Associate Professor Cynthia Breazeal at the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group which she directs. Breazeal, who is the author of “Designing Sociable Robots”, is founder and CEO of Jibo Inc.

Unlike the larger, mobile Pepper, Jibo measures only 11 inches tall, and is stationary. At only six pounds, however, you could carry it around the house without much trouble. The robot lacks Pepper’s semi-humanoid face and sophisticated arms and hands. Instead, Jibo has a round, HD touchscreen that presents animations, as well as multimedia services, including video calls. You can also interact with Jibo via an Android or iOS app.

Jibo reading through a recipe (left) and shown in profile
(click images to enlarge)

The robot’s body features three full-revolute axes, enabling it to rotate and shift position up and down to face people interacting with it, as well as approximate social interaction. A high-resolution encoder and feedback mechanism help control movements. (See the YouTube video farther below to see Jibo in action.)


Jibo runs Linux on a “high end” mobile ARM system-on-chip, and features WiFi, Bluetooth, and “full body” touch sensors, says Jibo Inc. The robot is equipped with dual high-resolution cameras, a pair of speakers, and 360° microphones that enable conversations with the bot from across the room. The device runs on both AC and battery power, and features full-spectrum ambient LEDs.

The world according to Jibo: facial recognition for photography
(click images to enlarge)

Software magic

The hardware may be fairly simple, but the software is touted as providing breakthroughs in human-like conversation, natural language processing, as well as self-learning. Jibo can recognize the voices and faces of different people in a family, and “can interact with natural social cues,” says Jibo Inc. Jibo appears to share at least some of Pepper’s touted ability to respond to emotions.

Potential applications for Jibo are said to include:

  • Photographer — Jibo can respond to movement, speech commands, and facial expressions to know when people are posing, and will capture photos and videos accordingly.
  • Minder/messenger — The robot can engage in conversation, take and read back messages, and volunteer verbal reminders.
  • Storyteller — Jibo is designed to be polite and funny, and can tell stories, looking at audience members, accordingly. It can also use sound effects, graphics, and physical movements to augment the performance.
  • Communications avatar — The bot doubles as a video chat mediator, using its see-and-track camera to move between multiple chat participants. When a Jibo is on both sides of a voice or video call, “His physical expressiveness allows you to show what you are feeling in a new way,” says Jibo Inc.

An “open developer platform” called the JiboAlive SDK program will let third-party developers create applications that could include interfacing with home automation hubs. Yet, “the Jibo subsystem will remain closed and proprietary for the time being,” says Jibo Inc.

A $599 developer version of Jibo includes the JiboAlive Pro SDK and enrollment in the Jibo Developer Program. Developer units will ship in the fall of 2015, says the company. A JiboAlive Forum and community site are planned, as well as a Jibo Store for Jibo apps, called “Skills.” The Store will launch Q3 2015, offering certified applications and unnamed hardware accessories.

The SDK is equipped with an Eclipse plugin, JavaScript API, and sample source code. There’s also a JavaScript visual programming tool, animation-creation tool, and virtual simulator, as well as a text-to-speech (TTS) tool and library of animations, sounds, and vocalizations.

Life with Jibo

Breazeal’s feel-good marketing message for Jibo met its match in a snarky dressing down by The Register’s Jasper Hamill, titled “If the machine rebellion comes, this robot will have to BORE you to death.” Calling the robot “the world’s most irritating robot” and “the bastard lovechild of a Dyson desk fan and a feminine massager,” Hamill notes one advantage to its $500 price: It’s cheap enough to throw out the window.

Fair enough, and there are legitimate questions about whether frequent interactions with overly cheerful robots will skew our expectations of social interactions with humans. Yet, experiments like Jibo and Pepper may go down in history as breakthroughs in the development of sentient robots. It will be interesting to see if Jibo is a more plausible companion than say, Siri or Google Now. The MIT Media Lab pedigree, as well as the low price and SDK make Jibo tempting indeed.

“Jibo is the first in a new class of family robotics that will humanize information, apps, and services, and ultimately will help people and families affordably address fundamental human needs that require high-touch engagement for the best human outcomes like education, independent aging and health management in the convenience of their home,” stated Breazeal.

The entertaining (but slightly creepy) video below introduces Jibo and its capabilities.

Jibo in action

Summary of Jibo specs

Specifications of Jibo, as listed on the bot’s website, include:

  • Processor — high-end ARM-based SoC
  • Connectivity — Wifi and Bluetooth
  • Sensors:
    • 2x color stereo cameras
    • 360° sound localization
    • Full Body touch sensors
  • Movement:
    • 3x full-revolute axes
    • high resolution encoder
    • feedback control
  • Display — HD LCD touchscreen
  • Sound — dual premium speakers
  • Lighting — full spectrum ambient LED
  • Language — US English
  • Size — approximately 11 inches tall, 6 inches base
  • Weight — approximately 6 lbs
  • Material — aluminum, ABS plastic, glass
  • Power — AC adapter and battery
  • Software platform — embedded Linux-based

Further information

Jibo is available in Indiegogo funding packages starting at $499, with shipments due in Dec. 2015. More information may be found at the Jibo website and the Jibo Indiegogo campaign. As of this posting, Jibo’s funding campaign has achieved 278 percent of its $100,000, with 30 days remaining.

(advertise here)

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2 responses to “Cheery social robot owes it all to its inner Linux”

  1. claus says:

    How about privacy, how is this device secured? With so many connectivity and recognition features it is the ideal spying device!

  2. oldnuke says:

    Half-past creepy.

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