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.


Steve “Woz” Wozniak to advise hologram emoji company that he calls “groundbreaking”

Apple’s co-founder Steve “Woz” Wozniak has found himself a new gig; Woz has joined the hologram emoji company, Mojiit, as an adviser.

In his role as advisor to Mojiit, the legendary entrepreneur and engineer will help assemble a world-class engineering team in addition to bringing investors and partnerships to the newly launched startup. Wozniak will also serve as mentor to Mojiit founder, Jeremy Greene.

“I’m thrilled to join Mojiit as an advisor,” said Wozniak. “Jeremy is a natural leader, the company is groundbreaking, it’s going to change the ecommerce space, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Created in 2017, Mojiit is the latest startup technology venture from Greene. The company’s tech essentially enables users to project and share 3D hologram emojis via smartphones.

The platform turns users into emojis by scanning their face, which can then be sent to loved ones and friends. Once a Mojiit message is received, it will map the area where it is received and place the Mojiit hologram there in real time, so it works in a similar way to Pokemon Go.

“Steve is one of the best and brilliant engineers in the entire world. But outside of that, he’s a wonderful man,” said Greene. “There isn’t anyone I’d want to be in business with more than this guy. He’s a legend. Who better to learn from than the guy who created the computer?”

Image courtesy of Nichollas Harrison. Featured image courtesy of Mojiit

In addition to consumer use, businesses of all kinds can tap into hologram emojis with Mojiit’s technology.

Mojiit investors already  include NFL alum Ed Reed, and the company was able to raise a total of $1 million in its seed round of funding.

Alongside the appointment of Woz, Entourage and Ballers producer Rob Weiss recently joined the company as a creative director.

“It’s exciting to expand beyond television and film to digital platforms,” said Weiss. “Hologram technology brings incredible opportunity to entertainment and media. I’m thrilled to be leading creative at Mojiit.”

Nanoengineers send antibiotic-delivering micromotors into the body to treat cancer-causing infection

Nanoengineers have demonstrated for the first time how “micromotors” that measure half the width of a human hair can be used to transport antibiotics through the body.

Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego tested the micromotors in mice with Helicobacter pylori infections, which can also be found in about two-thirds of the world’s population and while many people will never notice any signs of its presence it can cause peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.

The mice received the micromotors – packed with a clinical dose of the antibiotic clarithromycin – orally once a day for five consecutive days.

Afterwards, nanoengineers evaluated the bacterial count in each mouse stomach and found that treatment with the micromotors was slightly more effective than when the same dose of antibiotic was given in combination with proton pump inhibitors, which also suppress gastric acid production.

Micromotors administered to the mice swam rapidly throughout the stomach while neutralising gastric acid, which can be destructive to orally administered drugs such as antibiotics and protein-based pharmaceuticals.

Because gastric acid is so destructive to traditional antibiotics drugs used to treat bacterial infections, ulcers and other diseases in the stomach are normally taken with additional substances, called proton pump inhibitors.

But when taken over longer periods or in high doses, proton pump inhibitors can cause adverse side effects including headaches, diarrhea and fatigue. In more serious cases, they can cause anxiety or depression.

The micromotors, however, have a built-in mechanism that neutralises gastric acid and effectively deliver their drug payloads in the stomach without requiring the use of proton pump inhibitors.

“It’s a one-step treatment with these micromotors, combining acid neutralisation with therapeutic action,” said Berta Esteban-Fernández de Ávila, a postdoctoral scholar in Wang’s research group at UC San Diego and a co-first author of the paper.

The nanoengineers say that while the present results are promising, this work is still at an early stage.

To test their work, the team is planning future studies to into the therapeutic performance of the micromotors in animals and humans, and will compare it with other standard therapies used to combat stomach diseases.

UC San Diego nanoengineers also plan to test different drug combinations with the micromotors to treat multiple diseases in the stomach or in different sections of the gastrointestinal tract.

Overall, the researchers say that this work opens the door to the use of synthetic motors as active delivery platforms in the treatment of diseases.

Image and video courtesy of the Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics at UC San Diego.