Overheard/Underheard: Japan's SoftBank Introduces an Emotion-Detecting Robot
Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank recently introduced a robot named Pepper. The cooing, gesturing, laser-guided robot moves around freely on wheels much like other robots. However, the voice-enabled robot can react to heartfelt emotions as well.
While the robot can't feel emotions, it does have an emotion engine, along with a cloud-based artificial intelligence system. With this sophisticated interface, it can read human emotions by analyzing gestures, expressions, and voice tones. The technology will be able to evolve, learning as it experiences new things, and can be supplemented by additional apps and synchronization with cloud-based databases through an Internet connection. As a result, users will be able to personalize their robots.
Pepper weighs approximately 60 pounds and stands about four feet tall. It uses four microphones, two cameras, and a Wi-Fi connection to interact with its owners.
Pepper was developed in cooperation with Yoshimoto Robotics Laboratory and with France-based Aldebaran Robotics, in which SoftBank took a majority stake in 2012.
Pepper will be commercially available in Japan from SoftBank Mobile beginning in February. The cost will be about $2,000.
The robot will be available to U.S. consumers in the summer. SoftBank will distribute Pepper in the United States through Sprint, in which SoftBank purchased a 70 percent stake for $22 million in early 2013.
SoftBank already has received hundreds of requests from a variety of companies interested in the robot. Businesses in the finance, food service, and education industries have reportedly sent the Tokyo-based tech conglomerate inquiries. Other business uses could be found in healthcare, construction, and entertainment.