December 19, 2017      

Jibo, the Boston-based startup trying to kickstart the social robot industry, has laid off an undisclosed number of employees. The news, first reported by BostInno, comes after Jibo started shipping its social robots to consumers in mid-November.

In an email to Robotics Business Review confirming the layoffs, the company said, “Now that Jibo has officially launched, we needed to realign the business in order to focus our resources on getting more content onto the robot.” The email added that Jibo customers “are very eager for him to be able to do more. This realignment will allow us to double-down our focus/efforts on content, so we can continue to enrich the Jibo experience for each of our customers.”

Sonos, the popular wireless home audio system, made a similar move in 2016. The company laid off employees as it shifted its focus to paid streaming and voice control for its products. Sonos has since said it is working with Amazon to allow people to control Sonos speakers with Alexa.

Jibo’s success hinges, of course, on its ability to deliver an engaging experience to customers. While there are plenty of positive reviews out there, the consensus is that the Jibo experience has yet to live up to the hype that raised $3.6 million during a 2014 crowdfunding campaign.

Fairly or unfairly, Jibo is often compared to smart speakers Amazon Echo ($99) and Google Home ($129), yet the social robot doesn’t do nearly as much and costs much more at $899. So Jibo needs to quickly develop more skills its customers want.

Jibo adding new skills

And Jibo is listening. On Dec. 18, the company launched Jibo Music, a new skill that enables the robot to stream iHeartRadio Original stations through the two speakers atop its head. Users simply say, “Hey Jibo, play music” and Jibo can play a variety of music genres, including pop, alternative, classic rock, jazz, country, dance, and hip-hop.

Jibo will display the album artwork, song title, and artist name as the music plays. And to add a little personality to the mix, Jibo will dance each time users launch a new station and each time a new song starts.

Jibo Music will initially focus on music and news at launch, but the company said additional programming will follow. Jibo Music will also play iHeartRadio’s news and talk content from NPR and NBC News Radio. Here’s a short video of Jibo Music in action.

Jibo said it will be at “a major trade show in January” showing off new features. We are assuming this is referring to CES 2018, which we will be at hosting our “Artificial Intelligence: Insights into Our Future” conference.

Jibo reportedly has more than 100 developers creating new skills, so we will bring you some of the newest features unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show. Jibo was named a CES 2018 Innovation Awards Honoree in the robotics category.

Jibo SDK coming in 2018

Jibo’s software developer kit (SDK) will be launching some time in 2018. This will be very important for Jibo, of course, as it will allow developers to create skills that could take the robot’s personality to a whole new level. The goal was to ship Jibo and release the SDK at the same time. But Jibo said ongoing work on the SDK “resulted in a re-architecting of the way a skill is built to substantially increase speed and scalability as well as take full advantage of the cloud.”

Creating a social robot isn’t as simple as throwing some sensors and motors together with a cute design and speech recognition software. If it was, it would’ve been done successfully by now.

Jibo creator Cynthia Breazeal has touted the fact that Jibo is cheaper than the iPhone X. Now Jibo hopes more content, developers and skills will help it create an experience similar to the one iPhone users can’t live without.