Most robots so far have remained on testing platforms or on stages at showcase events to show off a company’s technological ability.
The Pepper robot built by Japanese companies Alderbaran and Softbank, on the other hand, can be bought online and used at home right now. Except you may have to wait a long time as the first batch of 1000 Peppers was sold out in about a minute, and it’s only available in Japan.
The buzz around Pepper also hints at a time in the near future where we won’t just have digital assistants living in our phones. They will be in our homes too with major companies like Amazon and startups like Jibo dablling in the space.
Pepper doesn’t do what we might have expected robots to do. It won’t clean our dwellings like Josie from “The Jetsons,” nor is it a helpful all-purpose assistant that cooks our dinners or fixes the leak in the bathroom.
Instead, Pepper is a companion robot that talks to you and knows how you’re feeling by sensing joy, surprise, anger, doubt, and sadness through your facial expressions, body language, and the words you use. If it senses that you’re sad, for example, it will try to cheer you up by playing your favourite song or playing peekaboo.
Pepper also acts as a personal digital assistant like a Siri on wheels with hands and a cute robot face. It connects to the internet and retrieves information like weather, reminders, and incoming messages, and it answers your questions by speaking out loud or visually through the tablet attached to its chest.
In the same way you install apps on your smartphone to make it more useful, Pepper’s best uses will come from third-party app developers. One developer, for example, showcased an app that would allow Pepper to assist dementia patients by reminding them to take medication. During the app’s demo, Pepper would take a picture with the cameras in its eyes of a pill organiser attached to its body, and send it back to the patient’s doctor to make sure that the patient had taken the medication.
Of course, there was bound to be an app that makes Pepper take a selfie with you.
Pepper rolls around on three omnidirectional wheels and stands almost four feet tall. It can manage on its own without much input from a user by automatically finding its charger when it comes to the end of its 14-hour battery life, and it avoids bumping into objects in its way with a 3D camera.
Whether or not we’ll see Pepper in American homes is unknown as of yet, but we’re sure to see similar personal digital assistant robots soon.
Jibo, for example, is a very similar robot that also acts like a Siri-style personal digital assistant, as you can interact with it with your voice and it will provide feedback with its own voice. It should be available for purchase in a few months.
And Amazon has the Echo, a Bluetooth speaker that can connect to the internet that includes a built-in digital assistant named Alexa.The Echo is available to select Amazon customers for $US199.
Check out how Pepper works in the video below: