Japanese company, Softbank, wants to replace friends and family and with an artificial alternative.
While most people turn to their friends, family, or significant other when they need an emotional boost, the Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank thinks a humanoid robot can do the job just as well. It’s called Pepper, and uses a bevy of sensors to analyze people’s facial expressions and tone of voice, the end result being a clear read of how they’re feeling. While initially planned for Japan, the robot can also speak English, French and Spanish, making it an option for lonely people in other parts of the world as well.
Built in collaboration with Aldebaran Robotics of France and China’s Foxconn, Pepper is nearly four feet tall and weighs about 28 kg. Powered by a lithium-ion battery that can last for at least 12 hours, the robot has no legs, but rather moves around on a wheel base. A 10.1-inch touchscreen is also built-in to Pepper’s chest, which can be used to communicate along with its voice and gestures.
“We want to have a robot that will maximize people’s joy and minimize their sadness,” SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son told a press conference outside Tokyo.
The plan is for Pepper to be available in SoftBank stores in Japan, and through online channels, from February next year. With a basic price tag of ¥198,000 ($1,929), the company eventually aims to sell the robot overseas as well. Apart from its ability to speak multiple languages, the robot will have its emotional expressions altered in order to fit with various cultures.
An onstage demonstration proved that the robot is good at recognizing human speech, but still not perfect. The other problem is that there is still a distinct lack of desire for humanoid robots. Aware of this fact, SoftBank isn’t aiming for a profitable product, but rather, a way to get the robots into people’s homes, and hope that the ideas catches on.
“Pepper is a baby step in making robots with emotion,” Son said. “Our vision is to create affectionate robots than understand people’s feelings and then autonomously take action. So the joy of a family will become the joy of the robot.”