Born of a partnership between Sprint's parent company and IBM, supercomputer Watson will eventually power the brain of Pepper, the empathetic robot being developed by SoftBank subsidiary Aldebaran. But that's just the beginning of a relationship that could see IBM and SoftBank work together to overcome the financial challenges both face.
Ideas often get lost in translation when there isn't a cultural understanding to back the intepreted words. So IBM has turned to Japan's SoftBank for assistance in building out Watson to better understand the nation's language, using its machine-learning ability to adapt and continue its education.
The might of Watson, already used to power big business and health care organizations, will enhance the intelligence of Aldebaran's Pepper robot. But IBM and SoftBank's partnership will go much deeper than giving Pepper machine-learning abilities.
"Engaging and friendly, Pepper is much more than a robot, he's a companion able to communicate with you through the most intuitive interface we know: voice, touch and emotions," says Aldebaran. "Created for SoftBank Mobile, one of the largest mobile phone operators in Japan, Pepper is already greeting and interacting with customers in stores."
SoftBank and IBM plan to build out an ecosystem around Watson and the super computer will be hosted in data centers maintained by SoftBank. They will work to create development toolkits and platforms to deliver new apps and services to sectors such as mobile, banking, health care and retail.
The partnership with SoftBank will aim to increase IBM's presence in Japan, while the telecommunications company will be the primary conduit for the delivery of Watson apps and services in Japan. IBM and SoftBank will work together to bolster each other's enterprise presence in Japan.
SoftBank, which maintains Japan's third-largest mobile network and owns Sprint, the United States' third-biggest wireless carrier, reported a marked drop in earnings for the quarter ending in December. SoftBank's finances were stressed by Sprint, a company it acquired back in 2013. CEO Masayoshi Son reported Sprint was turning around but acknowledged it was taking longer than expected.
SoftBank reported revenue of roughly $272.3 million USD, which was down from about $790 million a year earlier. SoftBank is planning to get leaner by merging subsidiaries SoftBank Mobile, SoftBank BB, SoftBank Telecom and Ymobile, formerly eAccess.
"The new company will, under a corporate philosophy of 'Information Revolution - Happiness for everyone,' seek to create innovative services and improve operational efficiency through structural reforms," the company said in its notice of merger statement.
Meanwhile, IBM reported that its net income was down 11 percent to $5.5 billion in the fourth quarter of its 2014 fiscal year (PDF). It's net income of $15.8 billion was down about 7 percent from the previous year.