BY CHRISTINA BONNINGTON
For many families, the tablet has become the central, shared computing device in the home. It’s a hub for learning, for entertainment, and for staying connected. But what if your tablet was even more interactive? What if it woke up when you can home, recognized your face, and suggested a couple of things you might want for dinner? What if, when asked a spoken question, it could tailor its answer directly to you, instead of just offering a blanket response?
A new device called Jibo can do these things, and it could mark the next step in group computer interaction in the home. But Jibo isn’t a tablet at all: It’s a robot.
Specifically, Jibo is a social robot. You talk to it, ask it questions, make requests. It talks back, provides answers, and takes care of grunt work like setting reminders or scouring the web. It’s meant to act as a helper and a partner in a variety of household experiences, much like a physical embodiment of Siri, Google Now, or any of the voice-activated concierge services available on our smartphones or tablets.
But unlike those handheld touchscreen devices, Jibo tries to act like more of a participant than a tool, as if it’s a part of the family. It has a big round head, and a face that “looks” around the room. The foot-tall, bulbous body can rotate to address the person speaking. It even leans a bit when it turns to face you, as though it’s listening more intently.
Jibo is only a prototype right now. The team behind it, headed by founder Cynthia Breazeal, who is also director of MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group, hopes to bring it to market in time for the 2015 holiday season. Curious early adopters can join the crowdfunding campaign that begins today. The pre-sale price tag is $500 for early backers, and $600 for a developer kit. That’s a little more than the cost of a good tablet. And Brezeal is clear about how Jibo is designed to perform the same types of interactions families currently use tablets for, but to do so with a physical presence that fits into human lives in a more natural way than just another touchscreen.
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