Nanny, personal assistant, storyteller, pet: The many roles of JIBO the family robot

A new robot called JIBO is being touted as the first of its kind that is tailored to families.

Though JIBO is unimposing at only 11in tall and 5lbs light, the little robot has the potential to change family dynamics and everyday life.

JIBO is able to recognise faces and talk to you, but he is more than just a novelty conversational robot. He can send and record voice messages, remind you of appointments, take photos and tell stories with movement and animation.

His creators even describe him as “the closest thing to a real-life teleportation device” because of his immersive video-calling capabilities that make it feel as if you are in the same room as the person you are calling.

Though he communicates with surprisingly natural language inflections and reactions, he was not created with a humanoid appearance. Instead, he resembles some sort of Pixar character, more like a cute family pet than a mini human.

This aesthetic decision is one of the elements that sets JIBO apart from Pepper, the emotion-reading humanoid robot that Japanese company SoftBank launched earlier this year.

While Pepper is being marketed as a companion that can understand and respond to your feelings, JIBO seems to fulfil a more comprehensive role—is he a home communications system, a personal assistant, a nanny, a pet?

Surely, JIBO’s developers want you to see him as all of these things. He is programmed with AI algorithms, helping him learn and adjust to your preferences so that he eases into your day-to-day life and becomes more than a trendy new gadget.

“What if technology actually treated you like a human being?” asked social robotics professor and JIBO founder Cynthia Breazeal. “What if technology helped you to feel closer to the ones you love? What if technology helped you like a partner rather than simply being a tool? That’s what JIBO’s about.”

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To further expand the mission of humanising technology, JIBO is being launched as an open platform so that users and developers can create applications themselves. In this way, JIBO will be able to communicate and complete tasks in ways that suit your own individual needs.

Potential customers seem to agree that JIBO could prove an asset to households. The robot’s Indiegogo campaign was fully funded in less than 24 hours, demonstrating the excitement surrounding the technology.

How could JIBO transform households? As a playmate and companion, he could combat loneliness. As a messaging system, he could improve family communications. As a personal assistant, he could increase efficiency. At the very least, as a cutting-edge robotic device displayed in your home, he could make you and your family feel like savvy masters of the latest technology.


Images and video courtesy of JIBO’s Indiegogo campaign.


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