Less than two months after SoftBank’s Pepper robot went on sale in Japan, another intelligent humanoid is poised to make its way into Asia. That’s because Boston-based Jibo just closed an $11 million strategic investment round to (eventually) bring its “social robot” to households in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China.
Jibo started out as an Indiegogo project for a robotic smart assistant that can help families. After pulling in a whopping $3.7 million from its crowdfunding campaign — massively exceeding its $100,000 target — the company went on to land a $25.3 million funding round led by RRE Ventures in January of this year to kick things up a notch.
This time around, the financing, which is an extension of that January 2015 Series A round, comes from a bevvy of Asia-based investors — Acer, Dentsu Ventures, China’s NetPosa and operators KDDI (Japan) and LG Uplus (Korea) — who will help the company expand its sales and marketing to key markets in the region once the product is set for retail.
We went hands-on with Jibo last year and, unlike Pepper — which is arguably the highest profile robotic assistant in the world right now — a full version is not ready for the world just yet. The prototype we hung out with last summer could communicate, but was limited in its functionality to just dancing. (Fun, but not exactly justifying the $749 pre-order price tag.)
Jibo said the fully fledged version will provide a range of different interactions such as handling reminders, ordering food, taking photos/videos, and other everyday assistant tasks like sending email, connecting with internet-of-things devices, or facilitating communication. Like Pepper, it could provide a friendly and easy-to-use interface for seniors looking to keep in touch with family, or keep their routine organized, using the internet.
Beyond the cute exterior, Jibo, which was founded by MIT graduate Cynthia Breazeal, offers an SDK that lets developers build features and applications for the bot. If that takes off, then it could provide even greater functionality and widen the appeal for potential customers. There’s no enterprise version planned at this point, unlike SoftBank which last month unveiled “Pepper For Biz”.
Jibo ships to more than 45 countries, including the U.S., EU and China, but right now both its developer and consumer units are sold out. The company plans to start shipping developer units this fall, with its earliest Indiegogo backers likely to begin receiving their orders this winter.
Those who ordered after that crowdfunding campaign can expect their shipments to arrive in late spring 2016. That’s quite a backlog so don’t expect Pepper’s prospective American BFF to pop up in retail stores just yet.