TOKYO — Japanese cellular operator SoftBank unveiled Thursday, June 5, its plan to launch next February a humanoid named Pepper capable of reading people’s emotions and carrying on conversations. It will be priced at less than $2,000.
Pepper, at four feet in height, zips around on wheels. The humanoid has on its chest a 10.1-inch tablet computer that displays information in response to queries. SoftBank boasts that Pepper is controlled by “cloud-based” artificial intelligence. SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son insisted that the goal for the humanoid project is “giving the robot a heart.”
The robot’s head contains four microphones, a camera, and a 3-D depth sensor. A gyroscope occupies the torso. There are also touch sensors in the head and hands. The mobile base has two sonar units, six lasers, three bumper sensors, and a gyro. It can scoot around at speeds up to 3 kilometers an hour, according to the spec disclosed by SoftBank.
Japan is the country where Astro Boy (a manga series), ASIMO (Honda’s humanoid) and Aibo (Sony’s robotic dog) were born. The story of yet another robot should come as no surprise -- except that Pepper is, well, French. The French robotics company Aldebaran developed Pepper for SoftBank, and Foxconn will manufacture the robots. SoftBank owns a majority stake in Aldebaran.
Honda's ASIMO robot. (Source: Honda)
Aibo robotic dog.
It’s important to note that Pepper isn’t a service robot. It neither cleans the house nor mows the lawn. It is designed to read stories to kids, liven up party conversation, and serve as the family pet. In short, it exists to entertain us.
This is where I fail to understand the value of this humanoid. What’s the point of having a robot if Pepper won’t do stuff I don’t want it to do? I mean, really, a witty robot? Even more puzzling is why SoftBank, a mobile operator, not a hardware vendor, should be interested in robots.
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