By David Harris, associate editor, digital, Boston Business Journal
First, there was Jibo, a robot for the home created by former MIT professor Cynthia Breazeal. Now, a French company called Blue Frog Robotics is looking to steal some of Jibo’s thunder by opening a Boston-area office. Blue Frog’s first robot, a mobile Jetsons-like device named Buddy, has raised around $430,000 on Indiegogo. The company, which is four years old, has raised two angel rounds and is now in the process of raising a $5 million Series A round.
Blue Frog has 15 employees and plans to triple that number in the months ahead as it expands to the U.S. The startup is looking to set up its first office in the Cambridge Innovation Center either in Boston or Cambridge.
“This is a mecca for robotics in the U.S.,” said Blue Frog chief operating officer Franck De Visme, regarding his decision to establish a U.S. office in Boston. Aside from Jibo, the Bay State is already home to a thriving robotics scene that includes Roomba maker iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT), the U.S. office for French robot manufacturer Aldebaran and health care robot company Vecna.
In many ways, Buddy is essentially Jibo on wheels.
Jibo 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. Aldebaran’s humanoid robot, Pepper, is also meant to live with humans. Buddy can do many of the same tasks, but also can move around your home autonomously (for instance, Blue Frog touts Buddy’s ability to patrol your home while you’re away and interact with the elderly, kids and pets). The robot, which has a battery life of 10 hours, automatically connects with a docking station when it needs to power up.
“For us, Jibo isn’t a competitor because it doesn’t move,” said Blue Frog CEO and founder Rodolphe Hasselvander.
Buddy is also capable of emotions — at least on the screen that functions as its face. Jibo looks more like a device.
While Jibo will sell for $599, Buddy will cost $749.
Jibo has raised $37.4 million out of a planned $43.4 million funding round, as previously reported. Investors in the company include CRV, Flybridge Capital Partners, Two Sigma Investments, Formation 8, Samsung Ventures, Fairhaven Capital, Osage Venture Partners and angel investors.
But even though Jibo has raised much more money, Blue Frog has big plans for Buddy. The startup eventually plans to produce 10,000 Buddy robots, with its initial shipments going out this winter.