Robot with a ‘heart’ goes on sale in Japan

Pepper speaks and performs. Picture: Getty Images

Pepper speaks and performs. Picture: Getty Images

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TECHNOLOGY company Softbank’s Pepper robot is going on sale in Japan equipped with a “heart” designed to not only recognise human emotions but react with simulations of anger, joy and irritation.

The robot, which has no legs and moves on wheels, was shown to reporters and guests at a Tokyo theatre yesterday It has a hairless head and moving arms and went through a year of software development after first being announced.

It glided proudly on to the stage, conversed with celebrity guests, did a dance, sang a birthday song and demonstrated how it could record family life in photos, and serve as a companion. It appeared to respond with joy when it was praised or stroked.

Softbank’s chief executive Masayoshi Son said the company was preparing for a global sales launch with partners Alibaba Group of China and Foxconn of Taiwan.

They will each take a 20 per cent stake in Softbank’s robotics unit, valued at a combined 29 billion yen (£150 million), to help with software and manufacturing.

Details of when and where it will go on sale outside Japan were still undecided.

But Mr Son said the first overseas sales will probably happen next year, with test sales set for later this year. It sells for 198,000 yen (£1,000) in Japan and 1,000 of the robots will be available each month.

A monthly service fee costs 14,800 yen, and maintenance insurance another 9,800. Mr Son hopes to make the business profitable within five years.

According to Mr Son, the robot will develop its own personality of sorts, depending on how people interact with it.

Pepper can remember faces and is programmed to be happy when given attention but becomes depressed when it’s not.

It will also cheer up sad people and try to mitigate suffering, he said.

Mr Son explained to reporters and guests what was in store for the 48in tall, 62lb white Pepper, stressing the company’s commitment to robots, especially smart robots that can provide emotional interaction in everyday life.

He said the inspiration for Pepper came from his childhood memories of Astro Boy, an animated Japanese character which did not have a heart and could not understand why people cried.

He made a point of programming Pepper to look like it weeps (lights well up in its round eyes).

It has artificial intelligence technology from IBM.

Although Mr Son acknowledged some may not agree with the idea of making robots that appeared to have human traits, he said such technology could be transformative.

One way the robot might be used, Mr Son said, is replaying the video it has taken of an individual over several years, even decades, to show at his or her wedding, for instance, because Pepper is programmed to document moments when it senses elevated emotional arousal, such as happiness and surprise.

Softbank will also make Pepper available for commercial uses from autumn, including renting out the robot for 1,500 yen (£7.50) an hour to retailers and companies for their reception desks.

“Love is what leads to happiness for all people,” said Mr Son.

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