pepper robot
September 4, 2014

Humanoid Robot That Can Read Emotions Will Go On Sale In The US Within A Year

John Hopton for - Your Universe Online

The Japanese company Softbank Corp unveiled its humanoid robot Pepper in June and now says that it will be available to US consumers within twelve months.

In partnership with French subsidiary Aldebaran Robotics, Softbank has created a robot that can sense human emotions by assessing tone of voice and reading facial expressions, as well as being aware of its surroundings and tailoring its actions appropriately using proprietary algorithms. The 1.2 meter humanoid will come with a laser sensor and will have a battery life of up to 12 hours.

Masoyashi Son, founder of Softbank, says that Pepper was influenced by watching the 1960s animated TV show “Astro Boy,” based on a character who couldn’t experience emotions, and tells us that “Since foundation, we have followed our corporate philosophy of 'Information Revolution – Happiness for everyone.'” In a video on the Bloomberg website, Aldebaran CEO Bruno Maisonnier adds that “a left brain robot able to clean your floor … is not what we are doing.” Rather, a robot that they think “more valuable” is one that brings happiness and companionship, and needs to be “very cute” in order to be welcome in the home. He says that Pepper, who can make jokes and dance, is ultimately intended to make us “feel better.”

SoftBank, best known in Japan for mobile phones, paid $22 billion for control of Sprint Corp in 2013, and it is through that US subsidiary that Pepper will be available. “We will sell Pepper in the United States within a year after gathering information in Japan,” Fumihide Tomizawa, chief executive officer of SoftBank Robotics, told Bloomberg's Rin Ichino and Takashi Amano. The cost in Japan will be 198,000 yen, roughly $1,900, but the price may be varied for the US market. The technology will be able to evolve, learning as it experiences new things, and can be supplemented by additional apps and synchronization with cloud-based databases through an Internet connection. As a result, people will be able to personalize their robots.

Softbank’s ambition is to supply robotics to industry as well as homes. In July, Son said he expects to contribute to improved labor productivity by having 30 million robots replace 90 million jobs. Tomizawa thinks that Softbank “…could enter the robot business for industrial use in the mid or long term,” and says that SoftBank has received 300 to 400 inquiries about Pepper from a variety of companies, including those in finance, food service and education. “I won’t be surprised if Pepper sales will be half to business and half to consumers,” he added.

As development of robotics gains momentum, Google has acquired robotics companies that include Tokyo-based Schaft Inc., while Japan has other major companies involved in making robots, such as Honda Motor Co., whose Asimo robot can run and play soccer, and Panasonic Corp., whose Hospi-R machines deliver medicines to hospital patients. At the same time, startups are working on robots like Jibo, “The world’s first family robot.”


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