Pepper, the personal robot that can read emotions, is finally going on sale to the public, a year after it was announced by technology giants SoftBank.
Having spent the last year among us as a greeter in SoftBank stores in Japan, Pepper has been learning, and when he – as SoftBank refers to him – launches on 20th June, he will do so with the ability to express emotions in response to its environment and interactions.
According to SoftBank, Pepper likes it when he’s praised, is relaxed around familiar faces and is scared of the dark: in other words, he’s a fairly typical child, except he comes with 12 hours of battery life and has a 10.1in touch screen fixed to his front.
Initially SoftBank will only have 1,000 units of Pepper available for sale through its website, but plans to have more available as the year progresses.
The robot will cost ¥198,000 ($1,612), with the option of paying in monthly instalments, and additional insurance is available for ¥9,800 ($80) a month.
Pepper’s touch screen provides its owners with the option to download around 200 different apps to enable Pepper to be tailored to different uses, and a developer program has been launched to encourage the creation of further apps.
One such app, Pepper’s Diary, charts the robot’s changing emotions alongside family events and photos, providing the ability to record your changing home life from the point of view of an emotionally responsive bot.
However, the jury is still out on whether Peppers varying emotional states are convincing – he will raise his voice or even sigh if appropriate, and his touch screen maintains a visual indication of his mood in the form of an animated, colour-changing heart.
According to SoftBank, however, there is some complex stuff going on behind Pepper’s plastic facade to deliver this feat.
“These emotion functions in Pepper are modelled on the human release of hormones in response to stimuli absorbed by the five senses which in turn generate emotions,” the company said in a statement.
“ In addition to Pepper’s emotion recognition functions, Pepper has capabilities to generate emotions autonomously by processing information from his cameras, touch sensors, accelerometer and other sensors within his ‘endocrine-type multi-layer neural network’.”
Touted as a robot that will keep children occupied, provide companionship and maintain the mood at parties, Pepper is a curiously unique offering in the world of robots.
It’s highly likely that the first batch will sell like hot cakes, but whether it proves to be the start of a trend in robotics remains to be seen.
Many of us would probably be interested in a talking, interacting robot, but it is not yet clear whether Pepper is destined for release outside of Japan. SoftBank has, however, gone to the trouble of keeping the english-speaking media up-to-date about the bot, so there is a decent possibility that they are waiting to see if there is any demand from beyond the Japanese shores.
However, with SoftBank also launching a Pepper for Business range, perhaps Pepper’s future is not so much as a cheery companion, but as a replacement for roles such as greeters. And given the robot’s price and demeanour, humans might struggle to compete.