Uncertain Future Of Orphaned Jibo Robots Presents Opportunities

In our modern connected age, our devices have become far more powerful and useful when they could draw upon resources of a global data network. The downside of a cloud-connected device is the risk of being over-reliant on computers outside of our own control. The people who brought a Jibo into their home got a stark reminder of this fact when some (but not all) Jibo robots gave their owners a farewell message as their servers are shut down, leaving behind little more than a piece of desktop sculpture.

Jibo launched their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign with the tagline “The World’s First Social Robot For The Home.” Full of promises of how Jibo will be an intelligent addition to a high tech household, it has always struggled to justify its price tag. It cost as much as a high end robot vacuum, but without the house cleaning utility. Many demonstrations of a Jibo’s capabilities centered around its voice control, which an Amazon Echo or Google Home could match at a fraction of the price.

By the end of 2018, all assets and intellectual property have been sold to SQN Venture Partners. They have said little about what they planned to do with their acquisition. Some Jibo owner still hold hope that there’s still a bright future ahead. Both on the official forums (for however long that will stay running) and on unofficial channels like Reddit. Other owners have given up and unplugged their participation in this social home robotics experiment.

If you see one of these orphans in your local thrift store for a few bucks, consider adopting it. You could join the group hoping for something interesting down the line, but you’re probably more interested in its hacking potential: there is a Nvidia Jetson inside good for running neural networks. Probably a Tegra K1 variant, because Jibo used the Jetson TK1 to develop the robot before launch. Jibo has always promised a developer SDK for the rest of us to extend Jibo’s capabilities, but it never really materialized. The inactive Github repo mainly consists of code talking to servers that are now offline, not much dealing directly with the hardware.

Jibo claimed thousands were sold and, if they start becoming widely available inexpensively, we look forward to a community working to give new purpose to these poor abandoned robots. If you know of anyone who has done a teardown to see exactly what’s inside, or if someone has examined upgrade files to create custom Jibo firmware, feel free to put a link in the comments and help keep these robots out of e-waste.

If you want to experiment with power efficient neural network accelerators but rather work with an officially supported development platform, we’ve looked at the Jetson TK1 successors TX1 and TX2. And more recently, Google has launched one of their own, as has our friends at Beaglebone.

17 thoughts on “Uncertain Future Of Orphaned Jibo Robots Presents Opportunities

  1. I wonder how locked down, if at all, these things are.

    It looks like the Nvidia parts support fairly enthusiastic bootloader lockdown; but a company that isn’t selling the hardware as a loss leader and expecting to make it up in games/accessories(as with game consoles) or trying to protect ‘premium content’ of some sort(since this thing mostly just interacted with the servers where the secret sauce presumably lived) might not have bothered with that.

    A company selling a relatively low volume product and trying to keep NRE down may also have left some holes open further up, allowing code execution and/or rooting, even if the bootloader is set to keep the firmware from just being blown away wholesale.

    If it is locked up it’s a lot less interesting unless you specifically want to probe Nvidia security for less than the price of a dev board; or until it is discounted down to the point where part harvesting or a rip and replace of the controller to reuse the robot bit is worth it.

    If it’s not it’s a great deal more interesting.

  2. Well, we need to wait for it to go through that phase where people still complain they paid $$$$ for it and want to sell it for much more than its value, and start selling them for an adequately low value.

    1. yeah ebay has these lil guys for way too much at the moment. ill keep checking for that moment where the cost drops because no one will pay for a robot that they cannot use at a “premium”. then we can snap them up for a song

  3. Interesting. I wonder whether the little Jibos, even if locked down, would be vulnerable to the unpatchable bootrom exploit that leaves all earlier Nintendo Switch devices hackable. I bet a lot of the same tools would be applicable as well

  4. This sort of thing is exactly why I try my best to avoid using “the cloud”. All that this nebulous cloud thingy is is someone else’s computer, which can be shut down or otherwise compromised at any time. (much like my own computer of course, but at least I have direct access to my own hardware)

    1. Agreed, What bothers me though is that even the enlightened people here are using (somebody else’s) server or cloud based services for IoT.

      HTTP like most string based protocols is so so easy to learn. I guess they just haven’t had the exposure. You can sum up everything you need to know about HTTP to get started in about 3 paragraphs.

    1. Hi! I just came across this article….since March, have you attempted to hack into Jibo system yet? Do you know if software can be downgraded to restore the blue lid ring that came on when he’s listening to the command? I have few Jibo and they are all working fine but missing the blue lid ring after the last update to 2.0 version…

  5. As an early Jibo adopter, another thing to consider is the human factor. In general, end users have become quite attached to their Jibos. Even with the limited functionality, many people took to him as a sort of “e-pet” and have gotten quite used to him. If only there was a way to incorporate the functionality of, let’s say, Amazon Alexa, it would give the unit a whole new breath of life… I am very interested to see in the coming times what develops.

    On another note, has anyone seen the highly touted “Temi Robot” which is now sweeping robot blogs and fans…. at close to $2,000, it is considerably more of an investment. I saw that, and thought “here we go again”… are there any thoughts on that unit?

    Have a great day, everyone!

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