If you’ve ever watched I, Robot, you could be forgiven for distrusting emotionally intelligent androids. But Pepper, a four-foot tall robot with just such capabilities, made by SoftBank, seems to have convinced the world that it has only good intentions at its electronic heart. Designed for purposes as diverse as customer support and nursing, Pepper sold out a minute after going on sale.
With a friendly face and a touchscreen attached to its chest, Pepper is certainly the kind of ‘bot you could happily adopt and interact with. It can be so clever because its brains are stored far away, in SoftBank’s servers. Here, the company’s very own “emotionally aware” software makes sense of your latest rant or sweet smile, and then instructs Pepper to respond accordingly. The system was initially used by five thousand robots, sent out to various research and education facilities by SoftBank and its French project partner, Aldebaran. Every robot that uses the system contributes to the software’s understanding. Now, it is being made available to the public.
In spite of a price tag of $1,600 per robot, the first one thousand Peppers were snapped up in less than a minute, after going on sale in Japan at the end of last week. SoftBank deliberately chose to make it a laptop-level investment, although owners will also need to fork out a fee of $200 per month, a subscription which pays for the upkeep of the cloud-based artificial intelligence. That sounds like a lot, but Aldebaran’s founder, Bruno Maisonnier, believes Pepper is “something that will change the way we think, live and work.”
There is no word yet on when sales will reopen in Japan, but SoftBank plans to provide an update in July, and is expected to bring Pepper to the rest of the world later this year.
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