SoftBank To Sell Robot In US Stores


Are robots about to emerge from the factory floor and become a part of our everyday life?

The Japanese telecommunications and Internet business, Softbank, is to begin selling its ’emotional’ robot, nicknamed Pepper, in American shops from next year.

The robot will be sold in SoftBank’s Sprint shops in the United States, in a move that could signal the emergence of robots from the factories and into our everyday lives.

Emotional Pepper

The Pepper robot was first unveiled back in June, but is expected to go on sale in Japan next February for approximately 198,000 yen ($1,900) according to Bloomberg. The American launch is expected sometime after that.

PepperThe Softbank Robotics humanoid robot, Pepper, is a 4 foot high robot that weights 28 kilograms. It can dance, make jokes and estimate human emotions based on expressions and voice tones. It is being touted as one of the first geniounely interactive robots, able to take in the surroundings into consideration before reacting pro-actively using proprietary algorithms.

It has a 12 hour battery life, and boasts laser sensors (to allow it to judge situations rather than for extermination purposes). It also comes with an open operating system, and the Aldebaran software development kit (SDK) should allow developers to customise the robot for possible uses in the construction, health care and entertainment industries.

However, the Wi-Fi enabled Pepper is initially being marketed at families and the elderly, but increasingly it has attracted attention from the business community. SoftBank has apparently received between 300 and 400 inquiries about Pepper from companies in finance, food service and education, Fumihide Tomizawa, CEO of SoftBank Robotics, told Bloomberg.

“We will sell Pepper in the United States within a year after gathering information in Japan,” Tomizawa reportedly said. “I won’t be surprised if Pepper sales will be half to business and half to consumers.”

A video of Pepper in action can be found here.

Robot Future?

SoftBank is not the only tech company pursuing the robot dream. Google has made no secret of its plan to develop robots, and in December 2013, it acquired Boston Dynamics – a robot design company.

Google has also previously purchased Schaft, a team from Japan that specialised in bipedal designs, and Bit & Dolly, a robotic arm manufacturer that supplied equipment for the Sci-Fi blockbuster Gravity.

IBM meanwhile uses robots to help it plot the temperature patterns in its data centres, in order to improve their energy efficiency.

Honda meanwhile has a robot called Asimo that can apparently play football, and Panasonic has created Hospi-R machines, that are designed to deliver medicines to patients in hospitals.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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