SoftBank’s Emotional Robot Pepper Goes On Sale

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An ’emotional’ robot that promises to be genuinely interactive will go on sale in America this weekend

The Japanese telecommunications and Internet business, Softbank, will begin selling its ‘emotional’ robot from this weekend.

The robot, nicknamed Pepper, will go on sale to American consumers this Saturday (June 20) for $1,611 or £1,006 in real money.

Robot Companion?

In addition to the upfront purchase cost, Softbank will also offer a service plan costing a not inconsiderable £75 per month. This will apparently give users access to cloud-based voice-recognition and an app store.

Softbank first revealed the Pepper robot in June last year. In September it confirmed it would go on sale in Japan in February 2015, before going on sale in America sometime this year.

PepperThe Pepper robot, is a 4 foot high robot that weights 28 kilograms and boasts Wi-Fi connectivity. It can dance and make human-like movements and body language thanks to more than 20 different motors and highly articulated arms.

The machine is being touted as one of the first genuinely interactive robots, able to take in the surroundings into consideration before reacting pro-actively using proprietary algorithms. It can reportedly make jokes and estimate human emotions based on expressions and voice tones, including fear and excitement. It will adjust its interaction based on these inputs.

Other features include a 12 hour battery life and laser sensors (to allow it to judge situations rather than for extermination purposes). It also comes with an open operating system, and the Aldebaran software development kit (SDK) should allow developers to customise the robot for possible uses in the construction, health care and entertainment industries.

It is thought that Pepper is initially being marketed at families and the elderly, but its makers believe there are also businesses interested in the robot, and the robot will go on sale to businesses in the Autumn.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son is hoping the friendly physical appearance will spur adoption of cloud services and attract app developers. The company is reportedly selling the robot below cost and hopes to make money on the after-sale side.

“Of course there is a need for mechanical robots that are strong and can perform physical work,” Son was quoted by Bloomberg as saying at a briefing. “We think there is value in a robot that can understand human feelings.”

Other Projects

SoftBank is not the only tech company pursuing the robot dream. Google has made no secret of its plan to develop robots, and in December 2013, it acquired Boston Dynamics – a robot design company.

Google has also previously purchased Schaft, a team from Japan that specialised in bipedal designs, and Bit & Dolly, a robotic arm manufacturer that supplied equipment for the Sci-Fi blockbuster Gravity.

IBM meanwhile uses robots to help it plot the temperature patterns in its data centres, in order to improve their energy efficiency.

Honda meanwhile has a robot called Asimo that can apparently play football, and Panasonic has created Hospi-R machines, that are designed to deliver medicines to patients in hospitals.

Last month, Professor Stephen Hawking reiterated his warning that robots and artificial intelligence could spell the end of life as we know it on Planet Earth.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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