By JOHN MARKOFF
As a graduate student at M.I.T. in the 1990s, Cynthia Breazeal studied with the roboticist Rodney Brooks and explored the idea of “social” robots that were designed to interact and collaborate with humans.
In 2012 Dr. Brooks began selling a stationary robot, Baxter, bearing an expressive LCD-panel “face” and intended to collaborate with human workers in manufacturing and logistics.
Now Dr. Breazeal (pronounced bruh-ZILL), who is on leave from her teaching position at the M.I.T. Media Laboratory, is trying to bring similar ideas to the home in the form of a robot companion: Jibo.
Dr. Breazeal is best known for the creation of an elaborate robot head, Kismet, that contained actuators, sensors and computer technology for understanding and interacting with humans, primarily infants and young children. Kismet had eyes, ears and a mouth, was expressive and tried to mimic human emotional states.
Jibo, in contrast, is more of an abstraction. Almost a foot tall, weighing six pounds and wirelessly connected to the Internet, it has a moveable LCD screen that in demonstrations displays an expressive orb, but not a human face.
Jibo will be something of an alarm clock on steroids. The robot, which is a stack of three components allowing the display to swivel freely in any direction, is intended to be a family companion performing a variety of interactive tasks like sending messages, taking pictures, acting as a personal messenger and serving as a robotic stand-in during conversations between people in different places, as well as a “friend” with a personality.
The company, which is running a crowdfunding campaign for the robot on Indiegogo.com, is also hoping that software developers will seize on Jibo as a platform and create applications that will extend the robot’s functions to things like tutoring and coaching.
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