Worth the wait? Jibo goes on sale 3 years after blockbuster crowdfunding

It could be the first social robot to breach the coveted consumer market, but delays have hurt Jibo's prospects.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Building robots is hard. Bringing them to market is much, much harder.

After three years marked by delays, bugs, and frustrations, Jibo, a social robot whose creators raised $3.5 million in a 2014 Indiegogo campaign, is finally available to the public.

After missing a projected 2015 ship date by a wide margin, Boston-based Jibo, Inc. started sending units to its 2014 Indiegogo backers last month.

Like the personal assistants from Amazon and Google, Jibo is an interactive tabletop device that can tell you the weather or look up a recipe.

But it's designed to be much more interactive than the current generation of assistants. Powered by face and voice recognition, he -- officially, Jibo's a dude -- remembers people and over time builds relationships informed by past interactions.

Jibo is also a true robot. A three-axis motor enables the device to turn toward the person it's engaging with and track moving subjects during photos or video calls.

An animated face displays a single blinking eye. Sounds weird, but it works. The thing is undeniably cute in action.

For a closer look, check out a hands-on demo by my CNET colleague Bridget Carey.

It's easy to write off the robot's ability to spin as a gimmick, a way of dressing up an Echo, for example. But Jibo's creators are betting that the robot's expressive movements during interaction will also make it more sympathetic and foster deeper engagement.

The company has a strong robotics pedigree. Founded by Cynthia Breazeal, who runs the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab, it's raised more than $70 million in venture backing.

But problems with latency and concerns reported by early testers regarding missed cues and communication quirks hampered development and led to the delays.

Out of the box, the robot has a cheeky personality and comes with a basic package of skills -- the company prefers the word "skills" to "apps" as they try to differentiate their bot from other personal assistants.

But Jibo is open source, and the company is hoping for a groundswell of support from the developer community.

As it stands, that means it won't be as feature rich as other personal assistants just yet. At $899, that could be a stumbling block.

But there's a reason Breazeal's company has been so successful raising money and weathering delays. If it lives up to its billing, Jibo will be the first social robot consumers use in their homes.

That's a tremendous milestone for robotics in general. Aside from automated floor cleaners, the industry has struggled to figure out how to leap into the consumer market.

Jibo is available for pre-order on the company's site. New units will ship in November.

Editorial standards