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At first glance, Jibo looks a bit like Wall-E’s robot girlfriend. Both Jibo, a real robot, and Wall-E’s girlfriend, the fictional Pixar character, have the look of a futuristic Apple product: reflective white plastic, round curves, a black screen for a “face,” and smooth swiveling movements.
But Jibo’s raison d’être is slightly more in line with Rosie, the robot maid from the 1960s animated television series The Jetsons, and its operating system is more akin to the one employed by Samantha, the artificially intelligent character from the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her. (One key difference: Jibo is male, according to its makers.)
Jibo is described as a “family robot” because it is able to see, hear, speak, learn, and help families with a variety of tasks around the house. It—he?—can “relate” by expressing itself in natural language, using “social and emotive cues so you understand each other better.” Jibo is meant to be a companion.
It’s the creation of a team of robot architects, cloud computing engineers, animators, conversational technologists, and human-robot interaction engineers. Jibo, Inc. is backed by $5.59 million in venture funding from investors including Charles River Ventures, Fairhaven Capital Partners, Osage University Partners, and angel backers.
So far, people like Jibo. A crowdfunding campaign, launched last month, raked in more than $1.5 million from more than 3,500 people, handily surpassing its $100,000 target. (The Boston-based company does not expect to ship its first units, priced at $499 each, until the 2015 winter holiday season. The crowdfunding campaign is designed to get developers excited about building apps for the robot, it said.)
Naturally, I had to meet Jibo. Off to a hotel room in Midtown Manhattan, then, where two Jibos and Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, the robot’s creator, awaited me. The robot is not yet fully functioning, it turns out. I watched a prepared demo where Jibo, about a foot tall, turned to look me in the eye. This was disarming at first, as if I was being followed by a security camera. Once he started talking to me, it began to feel more natural—as natural as a robot in a 1980s science fiction movie, anyway. Unlike his lesser robotic peers, or, say, a smartphone, Jibo did not rudely buzz or ding when there was a new message to communicate to me. He politely said, “Excuse me, Erin,” and waited for me to respond before continuing.
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