SoftBank will begin selling the Pepper humanoid robots in the United States next summer, through stores of Sprint, which SoftBank acquired last year for $22 billion.
The Pepper robots, which stand at heights of 1.2 meters and equipped with 12 hours of battery life and laser sensors, are able to dance, crack jokes, and recognize human emotions through expressions. They will first go on sale in Japan by February next year for a198,000 yen, which is equivalent to about $1,900.
"We will sell Pepper in the United States within a year after gathering information in Japan," said SoftBank Robotics CEO Fumihide Tomizawa. "I won't be surprised if Pepper sales will be half to business and half to consumers."
SoftBank has received hundreds of inquiries on Pepper from business in industries including food services, finance and education. Many industries are interested in the robot because SoftBank has also developed an operating system to control the robots, similar to Google's Android operating system for smartphones. The platform will be open for customization, so developers can program the robot to be useful in any particular function for a business.
Pepper was initially developed to be used as a companion for families and elderly people. However, since it was unveiled by SoftBank in June, the robot has generated interest for its potential business applications.
According to Tomizawa, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son is very involved in the Pepper project, as Son furthers his 2010 vision of creating a society that is able to coexist with robots.
Son has previously said that Pepper was inspired by his time watching Astro Boy, which is a cartoon in the 1960s that is based on a robotic boy superhero that is not able to experience emotions.
"We could enter the robot business for industrial use in the mid or long term," said Tomizawa, as Son said in July that he expects improvements in labor productivity through the replacement of 90 million workers with 30 million robots.
SoftBank's Pepper will be the first humanoid robot among the current projects that will find its way into the mainstream commercial market. Google has been recently acquiring robotics companies, including Tokyo-based Schaft that specializes in two-legged humanoid robots. Other known robot makers are Honda, with its soccer-loving Asimo robot, and Panasonic, with its Hospi-R robots that work in hospitals to deliver drugs to confined patients.
Pepper is the product of a collaboration between SoftBank engineers, Foxconn and Aldebaran Robotics.
The price for the robot's United States release has not yet been revealed.