Pepper inventor to roll out a dog-like bot to cheer you up

New robot expected to go on sale in three years will be equipped with a complex artificial intelligence allowing it to become smarter at detecting emotion

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2016, 8:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2016, 12:56pm

Kaname Hayashi is the inventor of Pepper – the cute humanoid robot that can read emotions. Now the Japanese technologist is working on his next project – an R2-D2 like robot that can roam around the home and cheer you up.

After leaving SoftBank last year, Hayashi founded his own start-up Groove X in November. His team of around 20 has been working on the new robot since January 2016 but full details can't be disclosed yet.

"It's completely new," Hayashi says.

While Pepper is able to interact with people by talking to them and detecting emotion, Groove X's upcoming robot will not use words. And Pepper is aimed at enterprises whereas the new robot will be a consumer product.

Hayashi said that the robot does not use words as it's trying to appeal to the subconscious emotions of humans, whereas the use of words is from the conscious area of the brain. The idea is for the robot to be able to be a "companion" in the home to help people through loneliness and make it feel "like somebody respects you", Hayashi said.

The Japanese inventor compared the robot to a dog.

"If you have a dog, when you are crying and the dog comes to you, you probably feel he understands you very much. You have a strong connection with the dog. Somehow between people and people it's getting difficult to understand each other," Hayashi said.

The robot – which is expected to go on sale in 2019 – will have a range of sensors on it. A complex artificial intelligence system will process the data from these sensors and eventually the robot will become smarter at detecting emotion via a process known as machine learning. Theoretically, it will get better at comforting you too and learn about its surroundings. The robot will be smaller than Pepper which is four feet tall and bigger than Sony's Aibo which is the size and shape of a puppy.

While Hayashi was careful not to give away too much about the design yet, he said that people would interact with the robot in many ways.

"You can imagine how you will communicate to any kind of animals or babies or anything you communicate with which doesn't use words. You are already having lots of methods. We would like to enhance that," he said.

There is no price tag for the upcoming robot – which doesn't yet have a name – but Hayashi said "it won't be very cheap".

Development of the robot could cost a lot because of the manufacturing process and software development so Groove X is currently looking for funding which Hayashi said is likely to close this summer. From then, he'd like to increase the headcount of the company. And to bring the product to market, Groove X may need to partner with another company, something that Hayashi is not thinking about yet, but said would happen naturally if Groove X makes a good product.

"We are concentrating on developing the product. If it's getting better and better, it'll be easier to find partners, so we are not rushing to find the partners," Hayashi says.