Softbank companies SoftBank Mobile and Aldebaran Robotics unveiled Pepper, a personal robot designed to read emotions. The companies plan to commercialize Pepper in February 2015 and launch a software development kit for robot apps in September.
Pepper will sell for a base price of JPY 198,000, or $1,931, at Softbank Mobile stores.
The announcement is notable since Softbank owns Sprint, which is trying to buy T-Mobile. Softbank is also defining mobility more broadly in that robots may sell alongside smartphones---at least in Japan. If successful, Softbank would have enough distribution via Sprint to bring Pepper to the U.S. The big question is whether technology buyers would swoon over an emotional robot using the latest voice recognition technologies, emotion engine, algorithms, more graceful joint technology and cloud artificial intelligence on the fly.
So far, Pepper is interacting with customers in a two stores in Japan, but Softbank Mobile will deliver the robot nationwide. Pepper's emotion comes from the ability to analyze expressions and voice tones. The plan is to have Pepper learn from early interactions to improve the experience when the robot officially launches commercially.
For now, Softbank and Aldebaran are hoping to entice developers to develop for Pepper, which appears to be a consumer play at first. However, Pepper is also likely to have business uses too. For instance, iRobot and Cisco have already launched a telepresence robot called Ava. Pepper could serve as a stand-in for meetings in the future.
Bruno Maisonnier, CEO of Aldebaran, said:
"The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology."
Pepper can judge situations via sensors and algorithms.
Estimate emotions based on facial and voice expressions.