You can now buy the first robot 'with emotions' that Alibaba and Foxconn invested $236 million in

SoftBank Pepper robotREUTERS/Issei KatoSoftBank Corp. Chief Executive Masayoshi Son (R) waves with the company’s human-like robot named ‘Pepper.’

SoftBank has announcedthat its humanoid robot, Pepper, the first robot to react to emotions and even have emotions of its own, will go on sale in Japan starting June 20.

But how can a robot have emotions?

It turns out that Pepper’s emotional functions were modelled after how humans release hormones in response to stimuli. We see things, we hear things, and they make us feel things. Of course, the emotions that Pepper will have are rudimentary compared to human ones — which some might be relieved to hear. But on a basic level, they function the same way. Pepper takes in information from his cameras, touch sensors, accelerometer, etc., and his behaviour changes based on how this makes him feel.

“Pepper is at ease when he is around people he knows,” SoftBank said in the announcement. He’s “happy when he is praised, and scared when the lights good down.”

In addition to changing the way he acts, you’ll be able to see Pepper’s emotions on a small heart display. The four-foot tall robot can also recognise human emotions, as well as dance and tell jokes.

And in case you think this is all too far fetched, there are some powerful companies banking money on Pepper’s success. Powerhouse Alibaba and Foxconn have invested $US118 million each in SoftBank’s robotics division, for a total of $US236 million.

“Robotics will become a critical field that catalyzes technological breakthroughs in numerous sectors such as healthcare, public services, research, and at home,” Alibaba CEO Jack Ma said.

Pepper will sell for 198,000 yen (about $US1,600), but SoftBank will offer a service plan for 14,800 yen — roughly $US1,200 a month —   every month. This gives users access to the app store, which will have over 200 apps at release time, along with voice recognition. Pepper’s software will also be open source.

You can watch Pepper in action in the video below.

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