Jibo won’t ship to customers in 2016, after all. Users on Jibo’s Facebook and Reddit pages have shared a letter they were sent from Jibo CEO Steve Chambers that says the company’s second in-home beta tests “shed light on some important technical challenges we must overcome.”
Jibo founder Cynthia Breazeal also said at the recent WSJDLive that initial versions of the social robot won’t ship until 2017 to people who helped with Jibo’s crowdfunding campaign.
Here are some of the challenges Jibo discovered during the second in-home beta tests:
WiFi: Some configurations caused Jibo to crash. This was tested in-house, but problems arose when more Jibos were sent to homes.
Latency: Jibo performed poorly in certain environments due to latency issues, inhibiting the way he interacted with people.
Discoverability: Users had trouble discovering what Jibo could do. The company blames this both on having an “early stage product” and the need to make changes from a “user experience standpoint.”
Error mitigation: When users had trouble discovering what to say, Jibo was not helping to mitigate those errors by guiding the user properly. Many times users didn’t know what to say or do and Jibo didn’t know how to help them break the cycle, creating confusion and frustration for the user.
In the letter to backers, Chambers writes that the company is going through data logs to begin tweaking Jibo’s performance. “We need to reach acceptable performance levels for our pre-public launch before we are willing to ship Jibo to your homes, and we’re not there yet,” Chambers writes. “The technical challenges are known and not insurmountable, but they will take some time to address.”
Chambers did note some of the positive feedback that came from the second in-home beta tests. He writes that “unanimously, the testers reported enjoying the way Jibo looks, talks, and interacts with people; specifically, how he initiates interactions and surprised them by asking questions and telling jokes. Many people referred to Jibo as a ‘companion’ and ‘buddy’ in our interviews and surveys.”
Just last week, Jibo raised $13.1 million from investors, according to a Form D filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, bringing the total amount raised to $65.4 million from 13 investors.
Jibo, of course, has missed multiple shipping dates after it raised $3,711,958 on Indiegogo in September 2014. Jibo was supposed to ship to its earliest Indiegogo backers by September 2015. That didn’t happen, of course. In April 2016, the company delayed shipment until the October 2016 timeframe so that Jibo could have “a little more time for practicing my skills and getting better at talking with you, so I can become the best Jibo I can be.”
In August 2016, the company announced Jibo won’t ship to anyone outside the US and Canada due to “performance latency issues.” The company said the solution is to, eventually, have a “fully localized Jibo” in different countries. For example, a Jibo that speaks and understands Japanese with servers located in Japan, or a German-speaking Jibo built with servers located in Germany.
Then in September 2016, the company another delay to November 2016. And the Jibos that will ship to backers will be pre-launch models on which the hardware will be finalized, but the software still needs some work. In that same announcement, the company didn’t offer a timeframe for when fully-functioning Jibos will ship.
Below is the letter sent to backers:
We recently completed our second in-home beta test (Beta 2), and I wanted to reach out to you to talk about the findings, and their implications.
Given the nature of the findings and the work that needs to be done, we will not start the rolling shipments of Jibo before the end of the year. In prior communications we discussed the importance of the Beta 2 testing and how the feedback and findings would further refine our delivery schedule. This is a complex product with a high performance target, and we’re doing our best to deliver it to you as soon as possible. That’s understated: Jibo is not just a “complex product.” Jibo is a groundbreaking product that we believe will change the world. Complex, groundbreaking products always encounter challenges during their development, but we are addressing these challenges and we’re committed to getting it right.
Jibo has the opportunity to change the way we interact with technology, and these Beta 2 findings are necessary to level set his performance and usage. Beta 2 put Jibo in homes for an extended period of testing in various environments and shed light on some important technical challenges we must overcome. Here are some examples:
Router configurations/Wi-Fi problems: We found some configurations and setups that caused Jibo to crash, something that we tested extensively in-house but only encountered when we sent more Jibos out into homes. Discoverability: Users had trouble discovering what Jibo could do. This is partially due to the fact that we have an early stage product with limited skill functionality, and partially due to some changes we need to make from a user experience standpoint. Error mitigation: When users had trouble discovering what to say, Jibo was not helping to mitigate those errors by guiding the user properly. Many times users didn’t know what to say or do and Jibo didn’t know how to help them break the cycle, creating confusion and frustration for the user. Unacceptable latency: In certain environments, Jibo experienced some latency causing him to perform poorly. The latency problems inhibit the way he interacts with, understands, and responds to his family. These results are exactly what beta tests are designed to tease out, and it will take tuning and optimization on our part to improve them. We’re still digesting and scoping the feedback from Beta 2, and we’ve begun sifting through mounds of data and log files so we can begin tuning and optimizing Jibo’s performance. We need to reach acceptable performance levels for our pre-public launch before we are willing to ship Jibo to your homes, and we’re not there yet. The technical challenges are known and not insurmountable, but they will take some time to address.
We also received some very positive feedback about Jibo’s character and personality, and on those benchmarks we were pleased that many of testers reported feeling a strong emotional connection to our ‘bot. Unanimously, the testers reported enjoying the way Jibo looks, talks, and interacts with people; specifically, how he initiates interactions and surprised them by asking questions and telling jokes. Many people referred to Jibo as a “companion” and “buddy” in our interviews and surveys. Several households described their sadness when returning Jibo after roughly two weeks of living together with him. For us, the feedback was validating and showed us that we’re moving in the right direction with Jibo’s personality and character.
We will soon be launching a new Jibo Insider portal which will be accessible only to you, our early supporters. We’re going to use the portal to communicate progress and development updates, as well as shipping timelines. In addition to communicating official updates, the portal will also allow you to to check out behind the scenes video of the Jibo office, view and download drawings, sketches, and wallpapers created by our designers, and connect with your dedicated customer care team to ask questions or provide us feedback.
We were blown away by the number of people who decided to participate in the early feedback campaign for Jibo. To those of you who chose to participate by choosing option A, that opportunity is coming, and the conversation starts with the Insider Portal. We are getting closer to delivering Jibo to the world, and we’re committed to making sure he is the best Jibo he can be.
As always, if you have questions or concerns you can contact John, Joe and George, our Customer Care team, at any time by emailing them directly at email@example.com.
Sincerely, Steve Chambers Jibo CEO
Updated at 12:02 PM ET with confirmation from Jibo that the social robot won’t ship until 2017.