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Refunds for international buyers of Jibo Robot -- the peril of hype

See a product swamped by global media hype miss expectations.  Refunds for international backers of Jibo. In December, 2015, cute ‘social’ robot Jibo “received $16 million from Asian VCs to enable it to speak and sell in Japan and China.” And that was just a portion of the total of $52 million raised, the first chunk on IndieGogo found 5,554 supporters raising $2.3 million.  But what just happened should not be a surprise. Why? Because “it won’t function up to our standards in your country… and will create more issues with Jibo’s ability to understand accented English than we view as acceptable.” Why all this money for a poorly defined, loosely described $500 table-top and presumably robotic companion beloved in the media?  Why indeed, as the GeekWire article rightly observes, Amazon Echo began selling at the same time, with many of the original Jibo hyped features and at a lower price point.

Contrast these two strategies and outcomes – no expectations versus hysteria.  Amazon under-promotes its initial limited Echo product run, geeks sign up, product is striking in its uniqueness and utility, with features some would ascribe to robots. It understands natural language (English only), performs some home automation tasks, and becomes more useful as the company upgrades the server-side, adds devices, an API, and more in the nearly two years of its market presence.  Jibo from the first crowd-funding second stood squarely in the hype-frenetic corner with robotic pets, companions and helpers.  Let’s think back – how much media love and ink has been showered on one largely forgotten robot-like gizmo after another: Paro the seal, more recently Pepper, and most recently, Hasbro’s Joy for All line of ‘robotic’ cats. Give the Hasbro folks credit – following the ‘robotic’ press hype, robot cannot be found on the product page. Maybe they wisely thought that word would harm sales.

Is this too negative – should we have more hope? Remember that crafto-matic ad? Whereas an MIT scientist needs the hype to get the money to do more research to get more hype to do more research…something is wanting – and maybe that something is clarity of purpose. And in the case of companion-like offerings in the Jibo category – what was the expectation set? Presumably make a companion robot, as defined by the inventor. For what purpose (in-home communication and verbal assistance. Why multi-lingual in the first place? Because funders wanted to fund?  At that point, expectations have leapt even urther from realism -- creating new problems for making good use of investor money and worse, it is unclear what the product was supposed to do or be – is it a floorw ax or dessert topping?

Beware media enthusiasm – so rarely are mismatched expectations recapped. This week’s Geekwire article referenced their own 2014 skepticism (rare at the time) about Jibo. Overhype of offerings for older adults, however, is unfortunate. There are far too really useful products in the market that can help seniors live less-lonely and more capable lives.  Generally they disappoint and then disappear – what happened to GeriJoy? GeckoSystems CareBot? What was next after washing the floor with the iRobot Roomba – not much, actually.  Good for back issues of Science Daly, but like Jibo has proven, creating an in-home, purposeful, useful companion offering is difficult, note the 2008 non-appearance of iRobot ConnectR – there really WAS a URL for that link in 2008. Ah, but then -- Alexa, what's the weather going to be tomorrow?