Yesterday I watched a wonderful new video produced by Aldebaran, part of the Japanese SoftBank company, to promote their new social companion robot, Pepper. Their website describes Pepper as “the first humanoid robot designed to live with humans”. Not only that, Pepper can actually recognise and react to human emotions.
When I first mentioned Pepper on this blog in July last year – link – I rather unkindly said that he had an annoying voice, well I have to say that I am getting used to it, and it doesn’t seem that bad any more. I also said that he had huge potential, and that I certainly stand by!
In Aldebaran’s March newsletter, while reporting that Pepper was now on sale to the public, they announced that the first 300 available in Japan were ordered within a minute. This is not surprising when you consider that the price was, I believe, around the US$9,000 mark, quite amazing when compared to other robots that are in development. Sadly, this is more expensive than I originally reported on this blog, but according to one news report, Pepper is initially being sold at a loss. The purchase is being made easier because buyers will pay just $1,660 followed by $206 a month for three years. During that three years the robot will be insured against damage and will also have access to Softbank’s cloud-based AI software so that updates can presumably be downloaded automatically. However, as with other advanced electronic products, expect to see the price fall as the sales rise.
The makers of Jibo must be worried. Even though their little companion robot is much less expensive than Pepper, I feel that Pepper will be more attractive to buyers because he just looks more like everyone’s idea of a family robot.
While watching Aldebaran’s promotional video (which is included lower down on this page), I couldn’t help but be reminded of the robot “Andrew” in the film Bicentennial Man starring Robin Williams, especially in the way the children react to the robot. Pepper seems like he could be a very early version of Andrew.
The first 300 Peppers apparently went to developers so we can expect an explosion of Apps that will expand Pepper’s functionality.
In the video, Pepper is asked to take a photograph of the family group at a birthday party, which he does. However the little girl, who has grown very attached to the robot (just as the little girl in the film Bicentennial Man) insists that Pepper is included in the photograph.
Jibo, the American family robotic device can also take photographs for you so that everyone is included – no need for the bleeping countdown function – but somehow I can’t see the same emotional attachment forming there.