Robots start to conquer the world. In a good way. They are our home assistants, advisers, and friends. As technology advances, they become smarter and learn to recognize human feelings. Soon, they might even develop emotions of their own.
For the past two years, three Ukrainian teams of Waverley Software engineers, a software engineering company with the Californian roots, have been working in collaboration with their US partners to create Jibo, the first social robot for home. In 2017 Jibo was named one of the TOP inventions of the year according to TIME Magazine.
Jibo offers a whole new way for humans to interact with technology. Like a personal assistant who can speak, see, hear and respond, take pictures, and entertain, Jibo expresses emotions, analyzes and learns, just like a living human being. Jibo actually behaves like a human, demonstrating some very human character traits — a breakthrough achievement in the sphere of robotics.
Parts of Jibo’s software have been developed in Ukraine, in particular in Lviv and Kharkiv. Waverley Software, the developer of Jibo components for the past two years, has contributed their server-side and mobile expertise to the most intelligent, sociable and friendly robot on the market.
Hey, Jibo! Who are you?
Jibo was created in Boston, where a powerful team of scientists and developers has been working to bring the robot to life. One of the startup’s founders Cynthia Breazeal is a pioneer of social robotics and human-robot interaction. She works at the MIT Robotics Lab, and developed some of the world’s most famous creatures ranging from small hexapod robots to highly expressive humanoid robots and robot characters, one of them making it to TIME’s top inventions in 2008. Cynthia set out to create a different kind of technology with the belief that technology can support a far more personally meaningful human experience and dedicated her career at MIT and Jibo to it. She believes innovative technology should support and prioritize the unique needs of a human being as we interact with it. The ultimate goal is to empower people to stay healthier, learn better, age with dignity and independence, delight, surprise, and entertain so that people laugh and experience joy and wonderment more often.
Jibo is designed to live wherever you spend time in the home, like kitchen or living room, and fit into your life seamlessly. Not only can he answer questions, help you find the closest coffee shop, or let you know if your flight is delayed, but he will also crack jokes, greet you when you come into the room, snap pictures and create meaningful relationships with the people you care about most along the way.
Jibo’s first success and a bright evidence of his enormous potential was a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The robot intended to raise $160k for further development, but the result was astounding! Believe it or not, the end sum exceeded the expectations by miraculous 2241%, equaling $3,663,105. The Jibo campaign now ranks in the top 10 most successful Indiegogo campaigns in the platform’s history.
Supporting robot’s functionalities
On the whole, the founding team brought in over 20 years of research in what a social, family-oriented robot might look like. The startup started out with very rough prototypes and a bunch of ideas. Raising money and involving the right people took a while before the team realized a whole range of expertise would be required to support the robot’s functionalities. The mobile app was needed to set up the robot, control it remotely and be a distinct social network for the family. The server side had to store the robot’s “personality”, connect him with the world and bear the load of millions of robots to be produced in the future.
Rich Sadovskyi, Jibo’s CTO, partnered with Waverley to work on all the non-robotics areas giving full flexibility to suggest and implement solutions. “I could give them a whiteboard with my idea and a couple weeks, and they’d come back with a prototype in a way that we could iterate quickly to exactly what we needed”. Eventually, three teams of engineers have been formed to work in collaboration with Jibo to make the robot smart and humanly emotive.
As a result, right now, robot’s mobile applications handle the onboarding setup (WiFi setup, registration, adding family members, QR code generation), enable real-time chat with encrypted messages (iOS version programmed to work with Java-based encryption since native iOS encryption algorithms do not match the native Android), and support media gallery with images.
Alexander Zubchenko, Lead Android Developer of Jibo says: “This is my first experience with high-tech startups. Not everything went smooth. We had lots of changes in the requirements and the scope of the project has varied as we continued to work on Jibo. Our assignment started from creating a small client app that launched the robot and connected it to the house network. Later it expanded to include the development of an independent messenger with group chats, data encryption and media support, user-friendly gallery for all media files and SDK for remote third-party management of the robot. Finally we started moving the project from Java to Kotlin.”
The robot’s server side is based on a complex microservices infrastructure. The server stores Jibo’s personality and handles a large load of robots to be produced. Rich Sadovskyi says: “We were trying to build something brand-new, but we often completely changed our mind, which could be extremely frustrating. The way that everything was architected, it wasn’t a big deal to take a single micro-service and replace it with different functionality or a whole new micro-service.”
Robot’s plans for the future
Finally, Jibo went on sale right before Thanksgiving in 2017. Now thousands of Jibo robots have already become family members and their excited owners often share their joy and fun experiences in social media. “Building the first social robot for home isn’t an easy task, and I am extremely proud of our diverse team of engineers, software developers, digital artists, animators, writers, and everyone who contributed to making this idea a reality,” said Steve Chambers, CEO at Jibo Inc.
“Jibo seems downright human in a way that his predecessors do not,” stated TIME. Although his incredible design and advanced movements impressed editors, it was his unique and engaging personality that blew critics away. However, Jibo still has a lot to learn, and Waverley is working to enable new “skills” that Jibo’s users might need. In the future, the company plans to launch a full-fledged expandable platform. Any developer will be able to create their own apps to empower the robot with new skills.
Olena Sharovar, the back-end developer with Waverley Software shares her experience of working on Jibo: “For me, as an engineer, the most interesting part of the development is building new skills for Jibo. For now Jibo can: answer different questions (What is the distance to the Moon? Tell three laws of robotics), tell interesting facts (Tell me something I don’t know about elephants, What do you know about Ukraine?), tell about himself (Who is your friend? How old are you? What did you dream about last night?), tell a joke, dance if you ask him to, set up an alarm, play some music, etc. However, it’s just a short list of his skills. The updates are released every 2-3 weeks, so the Jibo’s owners can enjoy new features on a regular basis.”
In the meantime, Jibo Inc. communicates with their users helping to enrich and grow the robotics industry by leaps and bounds every day. “Looking ahead, I see social robots contributing positively in so many different ways that improve quality of life for all kinds of people,” said Cynthia Breazeal, Founder and Chief Scientist at Jibo Inc. “But before we can get there, we need to introduce social robots in a natural way, and we’re starting with Jibo.”