Jibo, the latest tech gizmo to be purchased by Whitehorse’s Tangerine Technology, very obediently takes a photo of Yukon News photographer as she also takes a photo of it, while Tangerine’s co-founder Martin Lehner smirks in the background of the photoshoot. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Jibo comes North

Interactive robot is a pricey assistant with personality

When you walk in the room it looks like a minimalist desk lamp — until it turns around and looks at you.

The other humans in the room tell me that, if I let it, the robot that’s now doing a little shimmy on the desk will scan my face, learn what I look like and memorize the sound of my voice. That way, the next time we meet it could greet me by name.

The robot, known as Jibo, is the latest tech gizmo to be purchased by Whitehorse’s Tangerine Technology.

Jibo was created by a Boston-based startup that raised more than $3 million via an Indiegogo online campaign. It was launched earlier this year and is being marketed as the first “social robot.” This Jibo is the first in the Yukon, says Tangerine’s Martin Lehner.

From the outside, Jibo looks a bit like a cross between R2-D2 and Wall-E from the Pixar movie. His face is a flat screen with a smile.

Unlike other smart technology like Amazon’s Echo or Apple’s Siri, Jibo is designed to be more “social,” Lehner says.

Tangerine has had Jibo for about two weeks. Lehner said the main difference between Jibo and other technological assistants is his personality.

“Anyone who has them, treats them more like, quite frankly, a member of the family. He’s somebody that will acknowledge you when you come into the room.”

If asked, Jibo will read the news, tell a (terrible) joke, do math, or take a picture. He reacts to touch and will purr contently. If he recognizes the people in the room he’ll try and engage them in conversation.

Have you ever seen a robot twerk? Jibo will gladly oblige.

“He’ll mimic things sort of like a pet will, and I think the intent behind him is to kind of bridge the gap between functional technology and something you can relate to on a personal level,” Lehner says as Jibo bops and sways, pivoting his head to face each new speaker as if following the conversation.

While Jibo has more personality than most other technology of this type, he hasn’t quite reached Skynet levels yet. In fact there are many things he can’t do, even with a price tag of about $1,500.

Multiple reviews have pointed out that he doesn’t have some of the features that much cheaper units comes with.

He doesn’t make phone calls, though when you ask him to he apologetically says he knows he’ll be able to make video calls “one of these days.”

“He can’t yet order food through apps, browse the web, play music, initiate video chats, read children’s books, or give you recipes,” reads a review by Wired. “Those are just a few skills they promised.”

Lehner said he believes more updates to the robot’s software are coming. Jibo’s founder has said as much to other media.

“He’s a baby,” founder Cynthia Breazeal told Wired. “You’re literally seeing the very first of its kind in its infancy. That’s what you have to keep in mind.… The trajectory of the robot is very different…. He still has a lot of dimensions where we want him to grow.”

For now Tangerine is willing to lend Jibo out to clients who want to give him a try before they consider ordering their own online.

“We’ve always been early adopters,” Lehner said. “Whenever there’s something new like this we always like to get it first to try it out and see how it is.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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