Mobile phone operator Softbank has launched a household robot ‘with a heart’ named Pepper at a recent unveiling in Tokyo.
Manufactured by Foxconn, Pepper is essentially a household robot designed to be ‘the first humanoid robot designed to live with humans’.
SoftBank made 1,000 models for those that wanted to get their very own Pepper right away, setting them back 198,000 JPY each (approximately £1,000). The manufacturer claims that these 1,000 completely sold out in 60 seconds and that it will continue to make 1,000 units available for sale each month.
Not forgetting the monthly service fee of up to 24,600 JPY (£126) over the course of a three-year contract.
Although the robot doesn’t incorporate home automation or connect with the internet of things, it does however offer itself as more sociable companion, reportedly capable of communicating and interacting with its ‘family’ or owner via voice, touch and even emotions.
According to the creators of the robot, Pepper “needs to be able to understand your emotions. If you burst out laughing, he will know you are in a good mood. If you frown, Pepper will understand that something is bothering you.
“Pepper can translate what state you are in using his knowledge of universal emotions (joy, surprise, anger, doubt and sadness) and his ability to analyse your facial expressions, body language and the words you use. He will guess your mood and will even adapt to it.”
For example, Pepper will try to cheer up its human companion by playing their favourite song.
SoftBank revealed that Alibaba and manufacturer Foxconn have invested $118 million each in its robotics division, giving the companies 20% shares in SoftBank Robotics Holdings (SBRH), with SoftBank retaining a 60% stake.
“SoftBank, Alibaba and Foxconn will build a structure to bring Pepper and other robotics businesses to global markets, and cooperate with the aim of spreading and developing the robotics industry on a worldwide scale,” commented SoftBank in an announcement.
The makers claim that Pepper is capable of expressing his own emotions and that he has a real personality conveyed by his body language, gestures and voice.
Using artificial intelligence technology from IBM, the robot has been designed in such a way that it appears to bond with its family/owner as they continue to interact together, learning to recognise specific people and learning their individual tastes.
SoftBank Corp CEO Masayoshi Son showed reporters what Pepper could do at the unveiling event, explaining that his inspiration stems from his childhood memories of Astro Boy, an animated Japanese character that did not have a heart and could not understand why people cried.
He told the audience that he made a point of programming Pepper to look like it weeps – lights well up in its eyes when it is ‘sad’.
“The world already has robots that help in manufacturing and mankind has already made the car and the plane, but what it needs is love,” said Masayoshi. “Our vision is to offer a robot with love.”
During a demonstration, an actor showered Pepper with praise, with the robot replying: “Please say more,” and “Really?”
“Robotics will become a critical field that catalyses technological breakthroughs in numerous sectors such as healthcare, public services, research and at home,” commented Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
“Our partnership with SoftBank and Foxconn combines the best hardware and software talent in the industry to pave the way for robotics research and development.”
Foxconn CEO Terry Gou added that: “Foxconn is committed to investing in innovation that enables us to deliver cutting-edge solutions to our customers and that supports our goal of leveraging technology to bring greater convenience to the lives of consumers around the world.”
The future of SBRH, which includes France-based Aldebaran – acquired by SoftBank for $100 million in 2013 – looks set to include Pepper robots for commercial use later on in 2015, including renting it out to companies for just 1,500 yen (£7.69) per hour.
Masayoshi revealed that Pepper will likely go on sale outside of Japan by 2016.
The AI robot news doesn’t stop there…