Jibo review: Jibo wants to be your friend and nothing more
Jibo got his start three years ago as an Indiegogo project. The social bot is now available for purchase, but he's more beauty than brains.
The age of the robot companion is here. There's no sign of Rosie the robot maid yet, but given the Jetsons was based in 2062, she's still got time. Several new robots are making a buzz in 2017 though, including Jibo, a $899 social robot. What can Jibo do? Not as much as Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant. His cute personality feels determined to distract you from his otherwise basic skills. Given Jibo's limited talents, I can't recommend bringing him home unless you have $899 just burning a hole in your pocket. In which case, go ahead, because he's adorable.
Officially a "he," Jibo got his start three years ago as an Indiegogo crowd-funded project by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal of MIT. The project was fully funded by September 15, 2014, preceding the release of the first Amazon Echo, which showed up in November of that year. Three years later, Jibo is finally available for purchase, and I have to wonder if Alexa's speedy rise to the top stacked the cards against Jibo.
Weighing nine pounds and measuring 12 inches tall with a 6-inch base, Jibo is essentially a countertop robot. He's stationary, but does have two spherical halves rotating on a three-axis motor system to animate his personality, along with a 5-inch rectangular color display. Jibo dances, purrs when your pet his head and swivels to look at you when he hears a "Hey, Jibo" command.
The Jibo app manages the robot's settings as well as his "Loop." The Loop holds names of up to 16 people Jibo can recognize by face and voice. Jibo is COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) compliant. Any children under the age of 13 will need the assistance of a parent to sign up, and the parent must also be in Jibo's Loop. You can adjust Jibo's settings via the app. This is where you'll connect Jibo to Wi-Fi, set your location for local results, and view a history of recent Jibo interactions.
When it comes to skills, Jibo has limited capabilities. He can set reminders and timers, as well as check the weather, sports scores or a flight's status. Jibo can answer a host of questions through resources like Bing, Wolfram Alpha and Wikipedia, or read headlines from the Associated Press. Jibo also tells jokes, most of which I'm pretty sure he got from my dad. Jibo dances and reads random facts, poems and short stories. With two front-facing cameras, Jibo can also take photos and store up to 700 images locally as 1-megapixel, JPEG files.
Interestingly, Jibo also works with IFTTT triggers. You can ask him to find your phone, turn on your Philips Hue lights, or set a Nest thermostat by using a trigger word. I was also able to create IFTTT recipes for Lutron lights and shades. That gives me hope for Jibo's future as a useful robot. He doesn't work with IFTTT actions, though. You can't set him to congratulate you on hitting the step goal on your fitness tracker, for example. It is interesting that Jibo is IFTTT compatible, given that he isn't really optimized for any other smart home functions.
There are several bigger things Jibo can't do. He can't make calls, play music or videos or sync with your phone for reminders and calendar integration. These skills are standard in assistants like Google and Alexa, and while Jibo admittedly isn't aiming to compete with them, I have a feeling most people are going to expect more, especially for the price.
Jibo's two cameras and six microphones help him listen and watch. Combine this hardware with his blinking "eye" and moving body, and it begins to feel like he is always watching. While that's not entirely true, it is odd to see a robot moving and talking independent of any human commands. Jibo is really only listening for his wake-up phrase, "Hey Jibo." Anything else is automatically discarded without going to the cloud. The Jibo team says everything is SSL-encrypted and no microphone audio is streamed to the cloud or recorded until you say, "Hey, Jibo." While he can see people and detect faces, this visual information isn't saved or recorded unless you ask him to take a photo. Still, Jibo's independence takes some getting used to.
Putting Jibo to sleep will turn off his cameras and microphones, but we experienced more than one instance in which he woke up on his own and looked around the room, even greeting people as they walked by. Jibo's team set the sensitivity of his proactive interaction, and it's not currently something you can adjust. If you don't want Jibo to randomly greet you or look around the room, he'll need to be asleep or shut down completely.
I did like Jibo's personality. He's quirky, witty and not afraid to admit he doesn't know something. In fact, during set-up, Jibo does a lot of preapologizing about things like name pronunciation and even admits he's nervous. It's endearing on a Pixar sort of level. What did disappoint was Jibo's voice. It's surprisingly robotic, especially for something marketed as having so much personality.
There's a price limit to how much I'm willing to pay for cuteness, though. Jibo's creators think it's $899, but I wouldn't pay that much for one. I wish he could play music. I wish he could read my personal calendar, remind me of appointments, show me video clips or even make video calls. Jibo's creators say these abilities may be in his future, and I hope that's true. Even then, a $899 price tag seems hefty for a robot that is much less practical than any form of Alexa or Google.
Jibo's not alone in his heightened sense of self worth. Sony's Aibo robot dog is scheduled for release in January and is priced in the neighborhood of $1,700, plus obligatory monthly fees. Neither Aibo nor Jibo even come close to the price tag of Abyss Creations' RealDolls, which range from a few thousand dollars to upward of $17,000 for highly customized models (though admittedly, those bots have a very different set of skills). In any case, it looks like robot companionship is going to be pretty expensive.
Robots like Jibo, Aibo and LG's long-teased Hub Robot are just the beginning of social robotics. Today, Jibo feels like simply an entertaining luxury toy for people with deep wallets, but the companion category of robots is growing all the time. Who knows -- social robots might just be the friends of the future. Until then, I'll stick with humans.