Pepper -- the emotionally intelligent robot that has been working retail jobs in Japan -- is now getting cozy with developers in California. SoftBank Robotics America (SBRA) announced that its friendly humanoid will spend a week at b8ta, a Palo Alto store designed for trying and buying new tech products. From August 11th to 18th, the store's visitors can interact with Pepper, and programmers are invited to a developer's workshop on August 16th to learn how to create apps for the robot.
We spoke with Steve Carlin, VP Marketing & Business Development at SBRA, to find out more about the company's plans to officially introduce Pepper to North America later this year. He told ZDNet, "Our first initiative is to incentivize the development community to understand what the platform is, and bring their creativity onto the platform."
Next, we can expect to see B2B placements similar to Pepper's first gig, which was assisting with mobile phone sales. "The platform was designed for business -- really for retail -- with SoftBank's mobility stores," said Carlin. "So it really plays a great role in a business setting, especially a retail setting where it can engage people that come up to it and deliver content, deliver messaging -- whether that's as a brand ambassador or as a business's expert. So we feel like the next step in the North American market is to go to businesses."
SBRA recently made a series of major announcements that all lead up to Pepper's North American debut. At CES in January, the company announced that Pepper would be equipped with IBM's Watson artificial intelligence platform. Then in March, SBRA and Microsoft announced they would be collaborating on several cloud robotics initiatives. Most recently, Softbank announced at Google I/O that it was adding an Android SDK and a robust developer's portal.
Pepper, which was developed for SoftBank by Aldebaran, has built-in sensors, microphones, and shape recognition cameras that help it identify human facial expressions. "Pepper can tailor its responses to people based off of how it reads people's emotions. So, if you're happy it might give you a high five and say congrats, or if you're feeling a little down it plays your favorite song or gives you a hug," Carlin said. "That's a really powerful tool when you thinking about engaging people in a variety of different settings. It creates empathy and thereby connects with the consumer. We think we have a very unique platform, and we're very excited to bring that to North America."
Consumers who are eager to bring Pepper home will have to wait a bit longer. (The first run sold out in Japan within one minute.) The strategy is to gradually introduce Americans to Pepper through business settings, and then once consumers are used to interacting with the humanoid, they'll start to see the value of bringing robotics into their everyday lives.
"The vision has always been to have a robot in everybody's home," says Carlin. "So, eventually yes, we'll offer Pepper for consumers in North America."