Smart speakers powered by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are so common today that it’s easy to forget that the original Amazon Echo was introduced less than five years ago. At the time voice assistants were, at best, things we used on our phones. But Amazon wasn’t the first company to announce plans for a non-phone device that you could talk to.

Around the same time, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than $3.6 million to develop a “social robot for the home” called Jibo.

It was a small device with a touchscreen display, the ability to respond to voice commands, and a set of motors that allowed it to swivel and move sort of like Pixar’s anthropomorphic lamp.

It took Jibo three years to finally begin shipping the robot, which sold for $749 during the crowdfunding campaign. It went up for order for the general public in late 2017 for $899… and it was never all that useful compared to an Amazon Echo or Google Home.

The comments section of the Jibo Indiegogo page are a sad place with people noting that while Jibo can turn and look at you and do a little dance, tell a few jokes, offer some fun facts, or perform a few other functions, Jibo never learned to do half the things mentioned in the original crowdfunding campaign.

Now it never will.

The company behind Jibo was sold last year.

The Jibo Twitter feed and Facebook page haven’t been updated since last year, and the company blog seems to be dead.

Now the handful of folks that actually have Jibo robots are reporting that the company’s servers are shutting down — making the devices they paid hundreds of dollars useless (as opposed to just being not very useful).

Jibo itself is communicating the news to users — letting them know a few days ago that the servers would be shutting down soon, limiting the device’s functionality. A follow-up message lets users know that the servers are already off and that means that you can still activate Jibo by saying “hey Jibo,” but without access to the online server, it won’t actually be able to respond to any voice commands anymore.

You will still be able to do some things using the touchscreen. But it’s probably easier to just use a phone or tablet to do those things.

I’m tempted to say that this is just another in a long line of crowdfunding fails. But it’s actually more than that — it’s a reminder that a growing number of gadgets are reliant on cloud services to function… and if something happens to those cloud services, the hardware you bought can turn into an overpriced paperweight.

That might not be so bad if we’re talking about a $30 smart speaker. It gets much more annoying if we’re talking about a $350 pair of shoes that you can’t tighten or a $750-$900 “robot” that doesn’t do… much of anything.

There are alternatives to cloud services — even for things like smart speakers. The folks behind Mycroft, for example, have been developing an open source voice assistant that can process a lot of data on-device without sending it to the cloud first.

Meanwhile, it seems like a pretty safe bet that Amazon, Google, and Apple will continue supporting their voice assistant platforms for years to come — although you never really know with Google. The company does have a habit of killing services that are used by a lot of people if they’re not in line with the company’s vision for the future (or if “a lot” isn’t enough.

Anyway, I guess I feel a little bad for folks who bought into Jibo’s vision for the future… only to end up spending a lot of money on a product that shipped late, had limited functionality when it did, and was effectively put out to pasture not long after.

via The Verge, @InternetOfShit, and @DylanJMartin

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14 replies on “Jibo’s robot-shaped smart speaker becomes even more useless as servers are shut off”

  1. I’m reading a lot of negative comments concerning smart devices. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and mine is if you pay for it and continue to like it in spite of criticism then its the right thing for you. Smart Device are beyond the early adopters stage so don’t be sour grapes. I lost internet service and had to manually turn on the light and to look out the windows to see if it was raining. I’ll never go back to living without a smart device. Give me local control without an internet connection and I’ll have the perfect device.

  2. Has there ever been a good crowd funded device? Just delivering the device doesn’t count. So no, that $200 cooler with a blender doesn’t count.

  3. Brad, there are several typos and errors in this article. I suggest you give it another read.

  4. “Smart speakers powered by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are so common today ”

    Are they? I’ve never seen one, except on review sites like this. I remember discussing them at work one time and it sounded like everyone was unanimous that they wouldn’t ever want such a thing in their house.

      1. That’s not a compliment to the USA populace.

        I’m with zdanee on this one, just getting too old to this generation of devices that give too much power to the company whilst going unchecked for responsible and anti-consumer practices. I think as things get worse and normalised, we’re all going to feel the consequences in the next decade, as governments try to use force to take power away from these companies and the axe will swing heavy in the opposite direction (which is not a good thing).

      2. I’ve bring up the topic by creating reminders on Alexa devices I am near. “Alexa, set a reminder: 11:59 PM tonight, ‘Call for help.'” No authentication or anything to mess with things. Good thing there’s no Amazon Calendar for it to muck with…

    1. A surprising number of my family/friends have these devices in their homes. I told them about the security/privacy risks but only one ended up pulling the plug. I quit talking about it as I am already the “security crazy” person in the family.

    2. In my profession I go into a lot of houses, and I see a lot of those devices. Probably not quite half if you include things like the Cloud Cam. I even see a fair amount of the screened devices that are an upgrade from the Echo.

  5. And this is why I don’t use cloud based devices that can be killed by someone somewhere turning a switch to save a few bucks. Also why I don’t like MMO games, they are only interesting for a few months, then trolls and whales take over and by the time you get a PC that could play the game it’s not worth it anymore. Guess I’m from an older, “offline” generation.

    1. Exactly. And this is not accounting for all the micro transactions or pay to win in online games that makes for a lousy experience. Candy crush and the likes.

    2. For me it depends, but having local backup control is a clear plus. For smarthome hubs until recently there wasn’t really a product with local control.

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