The Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank Corp. has partnered with Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group and China's Alibaba Group Holding in preparation for its worldwide sales of the company's Pepper, a white plastic robot with no legs and moves on wheels, and has been programmed to understand human emotion.
SoftBank has announced that Foxconn and Alibaba have invested $118 million each for the company to develop the robotics industry on a global scale and in return, both companies will have 20 percent shares in SoftBank Robotics Holdings (SBRH) while the company retains the remaining 60 percent stake.
The almost four-foot tall Pepper is set to be available commercially for Japanese consumers at $1,600 initial price starting June 20 with a goal production of 1,000 Peppers every month. SoftBank will also be charging an additional monthly service fee of $120 and $80 for maintenance insurance for a three-year contract. As of the moment, SoftBank projects the robot to act as a companion for the elderly, assistant in offices and a teacher for schoolchildren.
Equipped with an artificial intelligence technology from IBM, Pepper is designed by SoftBank's acquired France-based company Aldebaran Robotics and assembled by Foxconn. The 62-pound robot could read facial expressions and body languages as well as recognize human voices and very capable of engaging in people's conversations. After the unveiling of Pepper last June 2014, the emotion functions of the robot have advanced considerably that not only it could read emotions but Pepper could now express its own. The robot's emotions can be viewed on its heart screen that displays different movements and colors.
Peppers have been experimentally assigned to nursing care facilities in Japan where they exercised together with elderly residents and sang songs. A software development team programmed an app known as Ninnin Pepper that allowed the Pepper robot to assist in waking up dementia patients and take their scheduled medicines on time. Pepper also reports to a doctor via Internet if the patient did not consume the pills. On a daily basis, the robot communicates with the patient by asking about their family to stimulate memory and the touch screen tablet on its chest has the capability to send and receive pictures and messages from a family member.
"Robotics will become a critical field that catalyzes technological breakthroughs in numerous sectors such as healthcare, public services, research and at home," stated Jack Ma, Executive Chairman and founder of Alibaba Group.