Jibo Inc., the company behind social robot Jibo, said Wednesday that it has secured an additional $11 million in venture capital funding, which will be used to help build its first run of family robots and later go towards an expansion into international markets. This time around, Jibo caught the eye of several investors from across Asia, including Acer in Taiwan, Dentsu Ventures and KDDI in Japan, LG Uplus in South Korea and NetPosa in China.
This brings the total invested in Jibo to $37.4 million, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Last year, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign for the eponymous robot through Indiegogo, with funding soaring past its first goal of $100,000 in less than four hours. When the campaign ended in September, Jibo raised more than $2.2 million, with 4,800 units pre-sold. The company briefly reopened the campaign in May, bringing the total raised through Indiegogo to $3.7 million.
“Jibo represents a new class of consumer robots,” Jibo CEO Steve Chambers told International Business Times. “He's a social robot. He's not designed to vacuum your floor. He's not designed to look humanoid with a nose, two eyes, two ears and a mouth. He's very much designed to be a character in a way that Disney or Pixar would create a character.”
Though Jibo won’t walk around the house or be something reminiscent of sci-fi films such as “I, Robot,” it will have lots of handy capabilities -- such as taking pictures, recognizing individual family members, announcing message notifications and other features. More skills can also be added to Jibo as the robot is opened up to app developers. Additionally, Jibo will have two built-in serial ports so developers can create accessories -- such as wheels -- if they so choose.
“Of the nearly $4 million of pre-sold units, about 30 percent have been to developers,” said Chambers. “The number one reason they're interested in Jibo is they perceive this platform to be creative -- an area where they can really explore their creativity.” Apps that developers create for Jibo will then be available through its own app store that will roll out with its 2016 launch.
“Jibo is a true pioneer in one of the most important technology transformations ever,” said Makoto Takahashi, senior vice president of KDDI in a statement. “With our investment, KDDI is acknowledging that in the era of Internet of Things, the family robot is going to be essential and ubiquitous and Jibo will play an important role in bringing this technology to the mass market.”
Jibo was one of a number of social robots introduced in 2014, including Intel’s 3-D printed robot, Jimmy, and Softbank’s humanoid robot, Pepper. But it will enter a market that is still finding its footing -- and has been for years.
“This is a nascent marketplace, said Dan Kara, robotics practice director at ABI Research. “These types of robots have been produced in Korea and Japan for years, but they haven’t gained significant market share. If you look at Jibo, the company is based on decades worth of research from MIT. Unlike the ones coming out of Asia previously, it’s based on real journal level research.”
But even with the funds and the expertise, what is yet to be proven is whether or not there’s a market for Jibo after the technophiles and early adopters have their fill, he added.
Though social robots haven’t taken over the living room just yet, other areas of robotics, such as homecare and lawncare robots are a growing market. According to ABI Research, homecare robots and lawncare robots such as Roomba saw sales reach 3.4 million units and $1.2 billion in revenue in 2014. By 2019, sales are expected to reach 6.9 million units and $2.9 billion in revenue.
Jibo will begin shipping the first units in 2016, though developers will be able to test their apps on virtual simulator units at an earlier date. Retail prices for Jibo haven't been finalized, though it's expected to come in between the $650 and $800 range.