SoftBank, a Japanese technology megacorporation, has announced the launch of an emotionally responsive, human-like robot for home use.
The robot, known as Pepper, has been described by the company as the “world’s first personal robot that reads emotions”, and is designed to target Japan’s home care market, which faces a significant shortfall of workers.
The robot is primarily being pushed as a companion for children, with SoftBank suggesting Pepper could read and interact with children, later reporting the children’s positive emotional responses to their mothers.
At birthdays, Pepper could be found encouraging fun by initiating singing and dancing, a prospect that’s sure to add additional air of cringe to any family gathering.
Other more serious possible uses for the robot include as a nurse or emergency medical workers. It could also prove an effective companion for elderly people.
Speaking at press conference in Tokyo this morning, Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO, said: “People describe others as being robots because they have no emotions, no heart. For the first time in human history, we’re giving a robot a heart, emotions.”
The robot is designed to ‘learn’ by recognising positive emotions and adjusting its behaviour autonomously in response.
This learning approach is accelerated through an interconnected cloud AI: habits and likes of a family that own a Pepper robot are learnt by the unit and shared with its fellow robots to provide an overall increase emotional response.
Although SoftBank admits that Pepper will initially make mistakes, it believes that over time this cloud AI should result in more empathetic robots that can more accurately read emotions and situations.
With large, round eyes and a build that is highly reminiscent of the NAO robot that is popular with robot researchers working with children, Pepper clearly supports the mantra that faces make robots more trustworthy. And given that parents are being encouraged to treat the robot as a baby sitter, this is a vital component of the robot’s design.
Pepper will be showcased in SoftBank’s Ginza and Omotesando stores in Tokyo from tomorrow as a greeter, so we are likely to hear early feedback about its effectiveness within weeks.
We’ll have to wait longer to learn how it fairs in homes, though, as it won’t be available for sale until February 2015.
Once it does go on sale, however, it could prove a runaway success. Pepper is being retailed at the shockingly reasonable price of ¥198,000 (£1,150/$1,900) plus tax, making it within reach of typical families, as well as schools and care homes.
Images courtesy of SoftBank.