Uh-oh! Crowdfunded social robot Jibo won’t now ship internationally

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Jibo, a cutesy social robot pitched to crowdfunders in mid 2014 as ‘the world’s first social robot’ but since delayed and yet to arrive in the market some nine months after its original due date, is now only going to ship to backers in the U.S. and Canada.

Overseas pre-orderers from the 45 other countries — where Jibo was originally slated as being available — have now been told they will be refunded (spotted earlier by Robotics Trends).

In the email update to its international backers Jibo writes: “After exploring all the options, we have come to the conclusion that we will not be able to deliver Jibo to your country”, adding this is because the bot “won’t function up to our standards in your country”.

So this social-robot-in-the-making is already losing friends and alienating people and it hasn’t even started shipped yet…

In an accompanying FAQ on the change Jibo’s makers claim the problems with delivering the robot to international buyers as down to latency issues on account of its servers being located in the US. They also blame issues with voice-recognition understanding “accented English”.

Interestingly they also point to “rapidly changing consumer-privacy laws” in countries outside the US as complicating the delivery of personal data services from US-based servers. Since starting work on Jibo the EU has seen various shifts in its privacy legislation landscape, with Safe Harbor nixed and now replaced by the EU-US Privacy Shield; while the region has also updated its GDPR directive — due to come into force in 2018.

But as TechCrunch pointed out when we first covered Jibo in 2014, a social robot that’s intended to be operated in people’s homes — and comes equipped with facial and voice recognition software plus a camera, microphone and video recording capabilities — presents very obvious privacy challenges. So you really have to wonder why Jibo’s makers didn’t consider data protection compliance issues prior to offering the robot in so many international markets…

They go on to write that the “right answer” to delivering Jibo to international buyers is a “fully localized” version of the robot, with servers located in the corresponding country. However they’re not making any clear commitments on that front at this point, saying only that “we plan to expand to some international markets in late 2017”.

Jibo’s slick Indiegogo pitch for pre-orders generated huge interest, pulling in more than $3.7 million in pledges for the startup, although the crowdfunding platform is notable for not requiring that project creators have a working prototype — meaning a slick marketing video can be just that: a slick marketing video and nothing more.

Jibo’s crowdfunder was quickly followed by an avalanche of investor cash — with the team closing a $25.3M Series A round in January 2015, led by RRE Ventures, followed by an $11M extension from a clutch of Asian investors to focus on delivering Jibo to Taiwan, Japan, Korea and China. So it’s perhaps most likely that those are the international markets Jibo’s makers are still hoping to serve down the line.

The full list of international markets Jibo was previously slated as available in was: the EU (all 28 countries), Norway, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru & Mexico.

We’ve reached out to Jibo with various questions and will update this post with any response.

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