CES 2016: IBM bringing Watson's brainpower to SoftBank's Pepper robot

Big Blue also unveiled what it boasted as the first app and wearable combo that concretely demonstrates Watson's potential for healthcare.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

LAS VEGAS---Being a supercomputer armed with cognitive learning powers, IBM Watson has plans to grow more powerful and maybe even omnipresent in 2016.

The machine learning wunderkind has an ambitious year ahead of itself with a bevy of new connected alliances made by possible by the wave flooding the Consumer Electronics Show this week: the Internet of Things.

The first step for introducing Watson into people's lives -- beyond what they might have seen on Jeopardy! -- is getting Watson into people's homes.

IBM has already made baby steps here through a variety of app experiments, including a collaboration last year with celebrated food magazine Bon Appétit, bringing the glossy's vast library of thousands of recipes accumulated over the year online and into a database for further culinary innovations.

But while connecting Watson to traditional home appliances -- many of which are now coming online thanks to the proliferation of the Internet of Things -- might foster awareness for machine learning capabilities faster.

Whirlpool has signed up to bring IBM Watson's cognitive analytics, data management and protection services to its connected home appliances. Taking that deal and synergy even further, Whirlpool Corporation has subscribed to IBM Cloud Business Solutions to study the real-time data funneling in from appliances with the intention of introducing new features -- either blanket or customized -- based on customer usage in the future.

Healthcare has already long been heralded by Big Blue as one of the sectors ripe for improvement thanks to Watson. Fitness is often a more popular thread of healthcare on the docket at CES each year, and IBM isn't missing out as it has teamed up with Under Armour.

The collaboration is still in the works, but the game plan is that Watson will power a future version of UA's Record app, a dashboard tracking virtually any and every kind of health and fitness statistic from hours slept to calories burned during a hot yoga sessions.

UA and IBM posited that Watson could take the app's feedback to the next level by tracking behavioral and performance trends, food intake tracking, nutrition management, and even how local weather affects the user's training.

On a more advanced level of healthcare, IBM is prepping its healthcare platform through a partnership with Medtronic, a maker of medical technology and services.

The two brands are honing in on Medtronic's devices for diabetes care with a new cognitive computing prototype measuring a patient's insulin and blood glucose levels. The patient utilizes the prototype in the form of a wearable device, which connects to and displays data via mobile apps for iPhone and Android.

But beyond just measuring data, Medtronic and IBM Watson are hoping to get ahead of medical afflictions as the app will come up with preventative steps automatically based on the data it receives.

IBM boasted this is the first app and wearable combo that concretely demonstrates Watson's potential for healthcare. A prototype is already being demoed at the trade show this week with plans for general availability later this year.

Finally, with its cognitive abilities designed to mimic the human brain, Watson could represent the future brainpower for artificial beings as well.

SoftBank Robotics have enlisted Watson to provide new functionality for its robot Pepper, honing in on learning and understanding language and gestures to interact naturally with humans.

Although Pepper was designed to be a robotic personal assistant with emotional responses, the Watson-minded version will be pitched toward enterprise customers with suggested roles at self-service kiosks and retail environments.

IBM also promised that the Watson-powered version of Pepper would be equipped with an software development kit and access to Watson APIs so developers can optimize functionality for their own business use cases and experiences.

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