Softbank enters world of robotics with perky humanoid Pepper

Japanese mobile carrier to sell robot able to read emotions and aimed at being a companion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 11:09pm


Softbank is entering the robotics business with its cooing, gesturing and sympathetic Pepper humanoid-on-wheels that it says is designed for companionship and can decipher human emotions.

The Japanese mobile carrier said Pepper would go on sale in Japan in February for 198,000 yen. (HK$15,000).

The machine, which has no legs but gently gesticulating hands, appeared on stage cooing and humming. It dramatically touched hands with Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son in a Genesis or "E.T." moment.

Son said Pepper had been programmed to read the emotions of people by recognising expressions and voice tones.

"Our aim is to develop affectionate robots that can make people smile," he said.

Cuddly robots are not new in Japan, a nation dominated by kawaii, or cute culture, but no companion robot has emerged as a major market success yet.

Sony discontinued the Aibo pet-dog robot in 2006, despite an outcry from its fans. It also developed a child-shaped entertainment robot similar to Pepper but much smaller, capable of dances and other charming moves, which it never took off.

Honda has developed the walking, talking Asimo robot, but that is too sophisticated and expensive for home use, and appears in Honda showrooms and gala events only.

The 121cm tall, 28kg white Pepper, which has no hair but two large doll-like eyes and a flat-panel display stuck on its chest, was developed with Aldebaran Robotics, which designs, produces and sells autonomous humanoid robots.

Besides featuring the latest voice recognition, Pepper is loaded with more than a dozen sensors, including two touch sensors in its hands, three touch sensors on its head, and six laser sensors and three bumper sensors in its base.

It also has two cameras and four microphones on its head and has Wi-Fi and Ethernet networking capabilities.

In yesterday's demonstration, Pepper sang, "I want to be loved."