Robot nanny to be sold in Japanese stores from 2015

SoftBank, a Japanese technology megacorporation, has announced the launch of an emotionally responsive, human-like robot for home use.

The robot, known as Pepper, has been described by the company as the “world’s first personal robot that reads emotions”, and is designed to target Japan’s home care market, which faces a significant shortfall of workers.

The robot is primarily being pushed as a companion for children, with SoftBank suggesting Pepper could read and interact with children, later reporting the children’s positive emotional responses to their mothers.

At birthdays, Pepper could be found encouraging fun by initiating singing and dancing, a prospect that’s sure to add additional air of cringe to any family gathering.

Other more serious possible uses for the robot include as a nurse or emergency medical workers. It could also prove an effective companion for elderly people.

Speaking at press conference in Tokyo this morning, Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO, said: “People describe others as being robots because they have no emotions, no heart. For the first time in human history, we’re giving a robot a heart, emotions.”

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The robot is designed to ‘learn’ by recognising positive emotions and adjusting its behaviour autonomously in response.

This learning approach is accelerated through an interconnected cloud AI: habits and likes of a family that own a Pepper robot are learnt by the unit and shared with its fellow robots to provide an overall increase emotional response.

Although SoftBank admits that Pepper will initially make mistakes, it believes that over time this cloud AI should result in more empathetic robots that can more accurately read emotions and situations.

With large, round eyes and a build that is highly reminiscent of the NAO robot that is popular with robot researchers working with children, Pepper clearly supports the mantra that faces make robots more trustworthy. And given that parents are being encouraged to treat the robot as a baby sitter, this is a vital component of the robot’s design.

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Pepper will be showcased in SoftBank’s Ginza and Omotesando stores in Tokyo from tomorrow as a greeter, so we are likely to hear early feedback about its effectiveness within weeks.

We’ll have to wait longer to learn how it fairs in homes, though, as it won’t be available for sale until February 2015.

Once it does go on sale, however, it could prove a runaway success. Pepper is being retailed at the shockingly reasonable price of ¥198,000 (£1,150/$1,900) plus tax, making it within reach of typical families, as well as schools and care homes.


Images courtesy of SoftBank.


DJI’s First Drone Arena in Tokyo to Open This Saturday

Consumer drone giant DJI will open its first Japanese drone arena in the city of Tokyo this Saturday, providing a space for both hardened professionals and curious newcomers to hone their flying skills.

The arena, which covers an area of 535 square metres, will not only include a large flying area complete with obstacles, but also offer a store where visitors can purchase the latest DJI drones and a technical support area where drone owners can get help with quadcopter issues.

The hope is that the arena will allow those who are curious about the technology but currently lack the space to try it out to get involved.

“As interest around our aerial technology continues to grow, the DJI Arena concept is a new way for us to engage not just hobbyists but also those considering this technology for their work or just for the thrill of flying,” said Moon Tae-Hyun, DJI’s director of brand management and operations.

“Having the opportunity to get behind the remote controller and trying out the technology first hand can enrich the customer experience. When people understand how it works or how easy it is to fly, they will discover what this technology can do for them and see a whole new world of possibilities.”

Images courtesy of DJI

In addition to its general sessions, which will allow members of the public to drop by and try their hand at flying drones, the arena will also offer private hire, including corporate events. For some companies, then, drone flying could become the new golf.

There will also be regular events, allowing pros to compete against one another, and drone training, in the form of DJI’s New Pilot Experience Program, for newcomers.

The arena has been launched in partnership with Japan Circuit, a developer of connected technologies, including drones.

“We are extremely excited to partner with DJI to launch the first DJI Arena in Japan,” said Tetsuhiro Sakai, CEO of Japan Circuit.

“Whether you are a skilled drone pilot or someone looking for their first drone, we welcome everyone to come and learn, experience it for themselves, and have fun. The new DJI Arena will not only serve as a gathering place for drone enthusiasts but also help us reach new customers and anyone interested in learning about this incredible technology.”

The arena is the second of its kind to be launched by DJI, with the first located in Yongin, South Korea, and detailed in the video above. .

Having opened in 2016, the area has attracted visitors from around the world, demonstrating serious demand for this type of entertainment space.

If the Tokyo launch goes well, it’s likely DJI will look at rolling out its arena concept to other cities, perhaps even bringing the model to the US and Europe.

For now, however, those who are interested can book time at the Tokyo arena here.

Commercial Human Spaceflight Advances Prompt Calls for Space Safety Institute

Commercial human spaceflight has been a long-held dream, but now it is finally poised to become a reality. Companies including Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are inching ever closer to taking private citizens into space, and there are serious plans for spaceports in several parts of the world, including Hawaii, the US, and Scotland, the UK.

But while the industry is advancing, the legal side of this fledgling commercial space industry remains underdeveloped, leading to calls for the development of an organisation to establish a framework for the safe operation of spaceports for human commercial spaceflights.

Writing in the journal New Space, Mclee Kerolle, from the United States International Institute of Space Law in Paris, France, has proposed the establishment of a Space Safety Institute recognised by the US congress and the United Nations.

This institute would “develop, enforce and adopt standards of excellence”, allowing the industry to develop while protecting it from liability and insurance risks.

“Currently, no international regulatory body exists to regulate the operation of spaceports,” he wrote. “This is unfortunate because while the advent of commercial human spaceflight industry is imminent, a majority of the focus from the legal community will be on regulating spaceflights and space access vehicles.

“However, the regulation of spaceports should be viewed in the same light as the rest of the commercial human spaceflight industry.”

The article focuses particularly on the establishment of a spaceport at the Kona International Airport in Keahole, Hawaii. At present, the spaceport’s development is subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Authority, however there are aspects to spaceport development that do not apply to conventional aviation operations.

A spacesuit design for commercial flights developed by SpaceX. Featured image: SpaceX’s proposed spaceport for its conceptual interplanetary transport system. All images courtesy of SpaceX

The institute would be designed to first and foremost ensure safety within the industry, so it would be important, according to Kerolle, to ensure it was made up of individuals with expertise in the field, rather than bureaucrats.

“To make sure that this flexibility is inherent in a Space Safety Institute, the organization should be composed of individuals within the industry as opposed to government officials who are not familiar with the commercial human spaceflight industry,” he wrote.

“As a result, this should protect the commercial human spaceflight industry to some liability exposure, as well as promote growth in the industry to ensure the industry’s survival.”