June 5, 2014
Pepper The Japanese Robot Can Read People’s Emotions
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Japanese mobile giant SoftBank, which bought a 70-percent stake in American mobile phone carrier Sprint in late 2012, unveiled a new robot named Pepper on Thursday. The cooing, gesturing robot showed that it could move around freely on wheels much like other robots. However, it can react to heart-felt emotions as well.
While the robot doesn't have an actual heart, it does have an "emotional engine," along with a cloud-based artificial intelligence system. With this it can read human emotions by analyzing gestures, expressions and voice tones.
According to SoftBank, Pepper is a "humanoid robot" and can take in "his" surroundings and react pro-actively using proprietary algorithms, while he is also equipped with an interface that enables communication with people. This includes voice recognition technology, joint technology to realize gestures and emotion recognition that can analyze expressions and voice tones. From this Pepper can apparently interact with people in a natural way.
Pepper was developed in cooperation with Yoshimoto Robotics Laboratory, Inc., a Yoshimoto Kogyo Group company, and with France-based Aldebaran Robotics, in which SoftBank took a majority stake in 2012. In addition to reading emotions the robot can also learn through daily interactions with people.
"Since foundation, we have followed our corporate philosophy of 'Information Revolution – Happiness for everyone,'" said Masayoshi Son, chairman & CEO of SoftBank Corp, in a statement. "To realize our vision, we have made a new entry into the robot business with the aim of developing affectionate robots that make people smile. Using emotion engines and Cloud AI, which evolves with collective wisdom, we're making this happen. As our first entry, we are pleased to offer the world's first personal robot that reads emotions, Pepper, which we developed with Aldebaran."
Also released is the Aldebaran software development kit (SDK), which will be provided for creating robot apps, which developers can incorporate into Pepper.
"For the past nine years, I've believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us, and make people grow,” said Bruno Maisonnier, founder & CEO of Aldebaran, in a statement. "The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology. It's just the beginning, but already a promising reality. Thanks to Pepper, the future begins today and we want all of you to be a part of it."
It isn't surprising that Pepper is being developed in Japan and for a Japan market, which the BBC reported is one of the largest robot markets in the world – worth about $8.4 billion in 2012.
Honda Motor Co. developed its own walking and talking Asimo robot in 2011, which it claimed was the "world's first autonomous behavior control" robot. Asimo won't be giving Pepper much competition as it is still too sophisticated and expensive for home use and has only appeared at Honda events and a few showrooms.
However, robots continue to be used in businesses to offset labor shortages, but could increasingly be used for households that seek to use robotic assistants to care for the elderly. With a rapidly ageing population and falling birthrate the demand for robots in Japan is expected to rise.
"Even if one can pre-programme such robots to carry out specific tasks based on certain commands or gestures, it could go long way in helping improve elderly care," Rhenu Bhuller, senior vice president of healthcare at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, told the BBC. "And with the technology improving fast - you could see big improvements in managing labour requirement in the sector."
SoftBank Group announced that Pepper will be commercially available in Japan from SoftBank Mobile beginning in February of next year; and the robot will be demonstrated at SoftBank Omotesando and SoftBank Ginza stores in Japan beginning this Friday.
The robot is slated to have a retail price of 198,000 yen -- $1,930 (US) or £1,150 (UK).