The Future of Computing: Social Robots That Help With Personal Goals

Entrepreneur and MIT scientist Cynthia Breazeal says the future of computing will include robots that can elicit emotional responses from humans — responses that could help improve their lives and help achieve personal goals.

Consider two examples, Breazeal said at marketing and technology conference FutureM this past week. In one recent study, a robot named Autumn helped users not only lose weight but also keep the weight off.

“These are machines that can help you be able to transform yourself into the person you want to become,” she said. In the other example, a robot that looked like a fuzzy stuffed animal helped young boost their vocabulary.

Breazeal also hopes that her own invention, a social robot named Jibo, will help improve people’s lives in a different way.

Jibo, which was unveiled last year, is capable of many tasks including acting as a personal assistant and an “on-demand cameraman,” picking up on cues like movement, speech commands and smiles to know when someone’s posing for a picture. The robot can also entertain kids by reading stories to them.

It’s clear that there is demand for a product like Jibo, which retails for about $750. The company raised $3.7 million in a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, and its YouTube marketing video has been watched nearly 10 million times.

“We’ve clearly struck a nerve,” Breazeal said at the conference.

But she stressed that robots can never replace the relationships humans have with other humans or even pets.

“It’s a new kind of relationship,” she said.

The Weston-based company of the same name has now raised a total of $37.4 million out of a $43.4 million target goal.The company now has an estimated valuation of $49.2 million, according to Seattle-based venture capital research firm PitchBook.

Source: Boston Business Journal, Sara Castellanos

Photo: Entrepreneur and MIT scientist Cynthia Breazeal says the future of computing will include robots that can elicit emotional responses from humans — responses that could help improve their lives and help achieve personal goals. (Sara Castellanos)