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Is Pepper the robot the catalyst for AI development?

Editorial
article image SoftBank’s Pepper has opened another window of opportunity in the market for smart service robots.

In September 2014, Japanese telecoms firm SoftBank collaborated with French robotics firm Aldebaran to launch the Pepper robot project.

The launch in 2014 unveiled the robot’s technical specifications and app development tools. After receiving a lot more orders than anticipated, the company delivered its first shipment of 300 Peppers in February 2015.

All of the robots were sold out within the first few minutes, demonstrating the level of interest that the public has in the sort of robotics that Pepper represents.

According to research firm TrendForce, SoftBank’s Pepper has opened another window of opportunity in the market for smart service robots. In the future, the market size of this kind of robots will grow with new and diverse applications. The sales of service robots have already surpassed 5 million units and are projected to grow by 20 percent in 2015.

SoftBank is actively promoting the Pepper robot, with the aim of attracting developers. It is aggressively pricing the device at 198,000 Japanese yen (around AU$2100), with the supporting cloud database of robot AI and other services costing 24,600 (around AU$260) per month.

SoftBank hopes that as more developers work on Pepper’s apps, the robot will later be able to enter the consumer market with an improved and wide repertoire of functions. Pepper will be available to the wider public in the middle of this year.

This approach means developers will be able to build apps for robots in a similar manner to smartphones. Developers can expand Pepper’s functions by downloading and installing apps onto the robot, and they can further verify and modify these apps. This could trigger a new wave of artificial intelligence and app development craze.

Pepper does not serve a utilitarian purpose, such as doing household chores. Rather, it is envisioned as a life companion, with the ability to recognize people’s emotions and provide appropriate responses. It is also designed for the consumer market.

While the robot is both inexpensive and limited in functionality, it can evolve with the help of its AI and new apps, and can be programmed with additional emotions, allowing a constant evolution in its ability to judge and react to people’s thoughts and feelings.

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