Robotics pioneer announces "world’s first family robot"

Earlier this year at Two5six, Rana el Kaliouby explained how many of our interactions with machines are dotted with frustration. “I hated Clippy,” she said of the annoying Microsoft Office assistant, a sentiment echoed by many. While el Kaliouby was seeking to fix those interactions on the software side with the creation of emotion-sensing programs at Affectiva, one of el Kaliouby’s former colleagues at MIT is exploring those interactions on the robotics side.

Dr. Cynthia Brazeal started looking at social robotics in the 90s as a graduate student and her work led to the creation of Kismet, an expressive robot face that was designed to interact with small children. Now Brazeal is back with JIBO, which she is calling the “world’s first family robot.”

One foot tall with a programmable LCD screen, JIBO is designed to be a domestic helper, alerting you when emails come in or taking family photos. But it’s the more subtle gestures like tilting its robotic head and picking up natural cues like human movement that Brazeal hopes is the draw. Even the language Brazeal uses to describe JIBO is an attempt to anthropomorphize. JIBO is a male, is “polite,” and has “heart.” (No word on if JIBO has a soul.)

JIBO is an experiment (and a $600 one at that), but he points to future of our engagements with robots, Brazeal says. “The next stage in computing is emotion,” she told the Times. And lately game designers like Journey‘s Jenova Chen and Beyond: Two Souls creator David Cage have echoed a similar refrain. “I think of my games as something that’ll communicate a strong emotion to make people’s lives better,” Chen told me last year.

And maybe JIBO’s the next step in that process. If Spike Jonze’s Her is any indication of the relationships we’ll have someday, let’s hope that JIBO doesn’t break too many hearts.

JIBO is currently available on Indiegogo.