SoftBank Mobile Corp. and Aldebaran Robotics announced on June 5 the successful collaborative development of “Pepper,” a humanoid robot designed to communicate with real people and meet their emotional needs.
SoftBank is the primary mobile operator in Japan, while Aldebaran is the world leader in the field of humanoid robotics known for robot models such as Romeo and Nao and for deployment of 5,000 robots for various programs worldwide. SoftBank, says research, placed a majority stake in the French robotics company Aldebaran sometime in 2012.
SoftBank's chairman & CEO Masayoshi Son says in a statement that the company lives by its corporate philosophy of “Information Revolution — Happiness for everyone.” To realize this vision, the company went into the robot business aspiring to develop robots that are affectionate and can make real people smile.
“Using emotion engines and Cloud AI, which evolves with collective wisdom, we're making this happen. As our first entry, we are pleased to offer the world's first personal robot that reads emotions, Pepper, which we developed with Aldebaran,” Son says.
Bruno Maisonnier, Aldebaran’s founder & CEO, shares the same belief of developing robots whose significant role is to be “kind and emotional companions” of real people that would help in enhancing daily lives and providing happiness, among others.
“The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology. It's just the beginning, but already a promising reality. Thanks to Pepper, the future begins today and we want all of you to be a part of it,” says Maisonnier.
Pepper, described as the first personal robot in the world that can read emotions of humans, comes with the latest capabilities and interface that allow communication with real people, bringing about recognition and analysis of voice, gestures and emotions of humans. That said, the humanoid robot communicates with real people in a natural way, in a manner that a real person would communicate with family and friends — cracking up jokes, dancing or entertaining people.
The company says all this was made possible by an array of entertainment capabilities, with some capabilities created in collaboration with Yoshimoto Robotics Laboratory. Other capabilities that will help the robot progress, by learning from daily interactions with people, are also in the works, to come in time for its commercial launch.
Main features being planned for integration on Pepper include judging situations through various sensors, estimating emotions as based on voice tones and expressions, and 12 hours of battery life, among others.
Beginning June 6, SoftBank will station Pepper robots in its Ginza and Omotesando mobile stores as its newest crewmember, to provide the public the opportunity to talk and interact with the said humanoid robot. It will soon bring more Pepper robots to its other stores nationwide. Pepper will be up for sale in February 2015 in Japan for ¥198,00 or $1,900.
Seen to be among the most quickly ageing countries in the world, Japan is expecting to fill up its declining labor force through robotics, further research indicates. Its total robotics market in 2012 was reported to be worth around ¥860 billion or $8.38 billion. Its market value is also predicted to swell to ¥2.85 trillion in 2020, with the development of more robots like Pepper.