In some very sad but not at all surprising news considering how things have been going for social robots lately, The Robot Report is, er, reporting that Jibo Inc. has completed the sale of its assets and intellectual property to a New York–based investment management firm, which I suspect is not going to be using Jibo’s IP to build robots.
We’ve known for a while that Jibo (the company) was having some challenges both in selling robots and meeting expectations. Layoffs followed, and back in June, a Boston Globe reporter stopped by Jibo’s Boston office to find it deserted and full of packing material and sold furniture.
New Jibos haven’t been available to purchase for months, although owners reported getting software updates as recently as August. According to The Robot Report, however, Jibo has now sold all of its IP and assets to SQN Venture Partners, which is probably just going to try to sell them off for as much money as possible. (We reached out to Jibo founder Cynthia Breazeal last week to ask about the SQN deal and the fate of all the Jibo robots out there. We’ll update the post if we hear back.)
Cynthia Breazeal and Jibo. Photo: Jibo
A few more details from The Robot Report:
Jibo also filed a Foreign Certificate of Withdrawal with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Jibo was a Massachusetts-based company that was incorporated in Delaware. By filing the form, Jibo acknowledges it “is not transacting business in the commonwealth” and “surrenders its authority to transact business in the commonwealth.”
The form was submitted by the Kallander Group, a Hudson, MA-based company that in part “specializes in comprehensive trust services for corporate restructuring and dissolution.” Barry Kallander, founder of the Kallander Group, was the last president of Jibo. He told The Robot Report that the Foreign Certificate of Withdrawal was filed because “we sold the assets of the company.” Due to confidentiality reasons, he did not confirm what company acquired the assets.
It’s not clear what’s going to happen with existing Jibos—our best guess is that they won’t be getting more substantive updates or support, but they’ll continue to function until their cloud connectivity is inevitably turned off, at which point they won’t be able to do much of anything. We could be wrong about this, for example if some other company decides to buy Jibo’s assets and continue the service, but it’s difficult to see how that could be profitable at this point.
Jibo on the cover of Time last year. Image: Time
Being first at anything is hard. It’s especially hard in robotics, and even harder in consumer robotics, where the expectation is for things to work almost perfectly and cost almost nothing. Things were never going to be easy for Jibo as the first social home robot, but the company consistently sold its vision for what they wanted Jibo to be, rather than the reality of what Jibo was. This is unfortunate, because the reality of Jibo was impressive all by itself, with a unique emphasis on physical expression and the potential for a diverse array of capabilities backed by robust hardware. But by the time Jibo started ending up in homes, much of its functionality was duplicated by smartphones and other smart home devices like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home. That left Jibo relying heavily on physical embodiment and a persistent emotional connection with its users that worked for some people, but left others disappointed.
Again, these are challenges for social robots in general, and it’s hard to blame Jibo itself for not being able to get everything figured out in a long-term, profitable way. It’s also worth mentioning that Jibo’s compelling initial vision (and consequent funding) inspired many other companies to work on social home robots as well, and although we haven’t seen much success in that space overall, we can certainly say that there’s now an industry-wide understanding of just how powerful having a social connection with an embodied device can be. Figuring out how to leverage that knowledge in a practical and sustainable way is the next step, but we might not even be thinking about the future of consumer robotics in those terms if it wasn’t for Jibo.
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