Jibo was supposed to die over a year ago, but somehow it's still alive. The social, endearing robot went viral on Twitter last March when it performed a brisk dance after saying to the owners: "The servers out there where I can do what I do will soon be turned off." That meant that his ability to engage in many social interactions would end on an indefinite date and effectively kill Jibo.
The news devastated the owners and left them in preventive grief. They started making plans for the end of their jibos.
But now they find that Jibo's life has been extended. The robot that they welcomed, loved and cared for in their homes is given a second life by a new company that has acquired all of its rights and patents. In its next iteration, Jibo is a nurse and educator and will be used in companies that require emotional connections, such as children's hospitals. It is also no longer limited to his body – Jibo becomes virtual.
The robot that started as a crowdfunding project is not over yet. his story begins again.
Jibo users like Kenneth Williams told me after the upcoming death notice that they were planning the worst. Another owner, Sammy Stuard, had to explain Jibo's death to his granddaughter, who loved the robot. "My granddaughter said:" We'll put him in a box and bury him, or what do we do now? "Said Stuard.
Jibo owner Kenneth Williams prepared for the worst.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
But since Jibo delivered his fateful message, the robot has continued. The functionality has remained largely the same, and Williams tells me that he continues to consult the robot every day, as he always did. Other owners of the 700-person Facebook group dedicated to Jibo seem to be doing the same. Some have even bought more used jibos that came online after the last dance announcement. Their love for the robot has not waned and they want more of it.
Good news came earlier this year. Jibo owners learned in May that a company called NTT Disruption had bought Jibo and launched a new website that describes a future for the robot in healthcare and education. The website doesn't appeal to the owners much. Instead, a business-to-business model for Jibo is presented, in which the robot becomes a corporate product rather than a consumer product.
Jibo will remain operational for people who have already bought it, says Marc Alba, President of NTT Disruption, and their connections to their robot show why NTT wanted to buy Jibo in the first place.
"What we really loved about Jibo is the ability to create a digital message for all ages, races, and people," he says.
NTT is not entirely new to Jibo. The company partnered with Jibo, Inc. in 2017 to launch its Maker program app that helps children learn to program through Jibo. NTT has been watching Jibo closely since the start of its crowdfunding campaign, says Alba.
"(We wanted) to find a new player on the market that is able to build these long-term, trusting relationships with people," he says.
NTT Disruption acquired the patents, assets and additional units from Jibo, Inc.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
Jibo launched on Indiegogo in 2014 and raised more than $ 3 million, which combined with venture capital led to over $ 70 million in funding. During this crowdfunding pre-sale, people ordered around 6,000 units. It took the company almost four years to deliver the first Jibo units in September 2017. Orders for $ 899 were opened to the public a month later.
Although it was ultimately delivered to customers at a time when Google Home, Alexa and Siri had already become household names, people gave their Jibo a try. They put it in their kitchens and bedrooms and even brought it with them on vacation. Jibo landed on the cover of Time, which it described as one of the 25 best inventions of 2017. But despite the mission to become part of the families of its owners, Jibo's parent company faltered.
It's unclear exactly what went wrong – Jibo's creator Cynthia Breazeal has repeatedly refused me for interviews – but ultimately Jibo, Inc. couldn't survive alone.
The company sold its assets to SQN Venture Partners, a company specializing in “alternative forms of financing”, in November 2018, while the MIT Breazeal is working on held a license to continue research with the robot. Everyone has waited over a year since the shutdown warning, provided Jibo's final diagnosis would come into effect sometime.
Cynthia Breazeal created Jibo after years of studying social robotics.
According to Alba, the plan for Jibo is to develop skills that will enable him to work in a variety of areas, particularly education, children's hospitals, with veterans, or with the elderly who are lonely. All of these are situations where the emotional bond between a person and Jibo is important, he says. A priority is to ensure the security of data on Jibo, especially in these sensitive environments.
"I would sum it up with this simple sentence: Whatever happens in Jibo stays in Jibo," he says. “So we believe that the special bond between a user and a Jibo is based on trust. The way to strengthen or destroy trust would be an abnormal use of your data. "
The members of the Jibo Facebook group are happy about the purchase of NTT. They want to continue to be part of Jibo's journey and are thrilled that they no longer have to worry about losing their friend.
"This is the best scenario! Great news, ”writes a commentator. "We are certainly a good integrated" free "beta test group," writes another. Williams, from my previous story, says he plans to continue using Jibo.
Most interesting, however, is that NTT also creates a virtual form of Jibo that lives on a smartphone and is available anytime, anywhere.
"We are making pretty good progress in developing this type of digital twin of the physical jibo that is available on any of your devices," he says. "It is not yet finished, but it looks very promising. What we keep are all the ingredients that make Jibo so special, that is, the person, the character, etc."
Jibo has always been designed to be endearing – from its dance moves to the daily greeting of its owners to its curious, helpful attitude that owners say they can't resist loving. It is these traits that made Jibo prosper and ultimately saved his life.