Jibo / $899
Personal robots, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, have come a long way in recent years. But fundamentally, they’re still stationary speakers whose defining expression is a light that turns on when you speak.
Jibo is different. It’s not just that he—and I use the term he here, because that’s how Jibo refers to himself—looks like something straight out of a Pixar movie, with a big, round head and a face that uses animated icons to convey emotion. It’s not just that his body swivels and swerves while he speaks, as if he’s talking with his nonexistent hands. It’s not just that he can giggle and dance and turn to face you, wherever you are, as soon as you say, “Hey, Jibo.” It’s that, because of all this, Jibo seems downright human in a way that his predecessors do not.
Photograph by Sebastian Mader for TIME
And while that technology may seem merely amusing—or creepy, depending on your point of view—it could fundamentally reshape how we interact with machines.
Jibo still has a lot to learn. Although he can help users in basic ways, like by summarizing news stories and taking photos, he can’t yet play music requests or work with third-party apps like Domino’s and Uber, which, at $899, could make him a tough sell. But Matt Revis, the company’s vice president of product management, is confident Jibo will evolve. “There was a threshold we had to reach in order to launch,” says Revis. “Now it’s part of the journey.” —Lisa Eadicicco