Jibo, Ling Bringing Social Robot to China

Jibo has partnered with Ling Technology to bring a localized version of the social robot to China in 2017. Jibo will supply the hardware and Ling will handle the software to ensure the robot aligns with Chinese culture.

LAS VEGAS—There are Jibo knockoffs popping up in China, but the real Jibo will launch in China—and the U.S.—in 2017, the company said at CES here this week.

Jibo has partnered with Ling Technology, a subsidiary of NetPosa Technologies that develops consumer AI technologies, to bring the social robot to China. NetPosa is a Jibo investor.

Nancy Dussault-Smith, Jibo’s VP of consumer marketing and communications, wouldn’t disclose, for obvious reasons, even a date range for when either launch would occur.

“Our Indiegogo backers will receive the Jibos first,” she said. “Then there will be a two- to three-month lag before sales are opened up to others.”

Jibo was co-located in Ling’s booth at CES, and Ling’s website has already been updated with a page for a product called JiboQ, which is an app to introduce Chinese consumers to a virtual version of Jibo before it’s released.

With the Chinese version, Jibo will supply the hardware, and Ling will handle everything else—software, services, etc.—to make sure the social robot aligns with the local culture. “Yes, the Chinese version of Jibo will tell different jokes than the U.S. version,” said Dussault-Smith.

The company will use that two- to three-month time frame to tweak Jibo after it collects additional long-term interaction data. Dussault-Smith said that more than 200,000 people are on Jibo’s waiting list, and they will have first crack at Jibo once he’s available to the general public.

Localized versions of Jibo have been on the company’s radar since at least August 2016, which was when the company announced that Jibo wouldn’t initially ship outside the U.S. and Canada.

“Operating servers from the U.S. creates performance latency issues; from a voice-recognition perspective, those servers in the U.S. will create more issues with Jibo’s ability to understand accented English than we view as acceptable,” Jibo said. “Additionally, given rapidly changing consumer-privacy laws, remote servers in the U.S. providing services and content to other countries have been subject to extensive privacy regulation and legislation in many non-U.S. countries, creating further barriers to providing you with the full Jibo experience you expect and deserve.”

“Beta testing in 25 households in 2016 was eye-opening,” Dussault-Smith said. “It was amazing how quickly people formed emotional attachments with the robot. The hardware is nearly done, but the software needs fine-tuning. We’re getting close.”

China will be the first country besides the U.S. to have Jibo; surely, others will follow.

Jibo has missed multiple shipping dates since ending its Indiegogo campaign in September 2014. The social robot was supposed to ship to its 2,500 earliest Indiegogo backers by September 2015. That didn’t happen.

In April 2016, the company delayed shipment until October 2016 so that Jibo could have “a little more time for practicing my skills and getting better at talking with you, so I can become the best Jibo I can be.”

Then in November, Jibo announced that it wouldn’t ship to customers in 2016. In an email update to its Indiegogo backers, CEO Steve Chambers said Jibo’s second in-home beta test “shed light on some important technical challenges we must overcome.”

Ling is clearly looking to add more robots to its portfolio. Not only is it working with Jibo, but the company also debuted its Wavebot patrol robot at CES. Wavebot will have facial recognition, the ability to hold a coversation, and alert the authorities—in some countries. Many of Wavebot’s intended abilities were not on display at CES, but the company said it will eventually be available in the U.S.

“We’ve had a good CES. Lots of companies want to partner with Jibo to help bring their brands into the home,” Dussault-Smith said.


Jibo Lookalikes at CES

If you think Jibo has failed, a look around CES might change your opinion. The number of Jibo lookalikes is astounding. Moorebot, LG’s Hub Robot, and Avatar Controls’ Eywa E1 seem separated at birth, while countless other robots in Vegas apparently attended the Jibo School of Design. CES is a massive show, so there are likely even more lookalikes that could be added to this list.

“There certainly are a lot of white and round models,” said Dussault-Smith. “But they don’t understand the amount of thought that went into Jibo’s design.” One example she used was the fact that Jibo’s head is slightly larger than his body, which was intended to make “Jibo resemble a baby to help show childlike behavior.”

Is Jibo worried about the knockoffs?

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery is what people say publicly,” Dussault-Smith says. “But none of [the other robots] have shipped yet, either. Some are blatant knockoffs that don’t care about how their robots work. They’re just looking to monetize the moment.”

Dussault-Smith said Jibo could take legal action to protect its intellectual property.

Jibo also expressed concern the knockoffs could be a letdown to the consumers and hurt the reputation of all social robots.

“People might feel like we’re late, but we’ve worked so hard to make him a unique experience,” Dussault-Smith said. “We’re really trying to make that interaction stick. But the timing is getting critical.”

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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