This is Masayoshi Son, often called the Japanese Bill Gates — billionaire, entrepreneur, SoftBank’s enigmatic boss and a recent Sprint chairman.
Shaking hands with Mr. Son and towering over him is Sprint CEO Dan Hesse.
Obviously, Masayoshi Son is not a very tall man.
And this is Mr. Son with Pepper. At 4-feet tall and 62 pounds, Pepper isn’t a very tall robot, reaching about two-thirds of Mr. Son’s height. Pepper appeared to engage Son in natural-sounding Japanese, but it’s hard to tell how much was being processed in real time. Pepper has around 12 hours of battery life, according to Son.
Pepper is a fast learner, capable of figuring out how to act in a natural “human” manner. It learns from humans and its software uploads its “impressions” of human interaction and behavior to a cloud AI system for other units to use.
Pepper’s “heart and soul” is “emotion engine.” That alone makes Pepper principally different from all other programmable humanoid robots.
The robot is the result of a collaboration between SoftBank and French company Aldebaran Robotics, which has produced models like the Nao and the Romeo. SoftBank took a majority stake in Aldebaran in 2012. The Nikkei newspaper reported earlier that production will be outsourced to Foxconn; founder Terry Gou joined Son onstage to express his support for the project.
Honda has also been developing a household robot, Asimo. US President Barack Obama played football with it during his recent visit to Japan.
Japan is one of the world’s biggest robot markets with estimated value of about 860bn ($8.4bn; £5bn) yen in 2012, and growing. Rapidly ageing population and falling birth rate expected to increase demand fro robots even further.
“Even if one can pre-programme such robots to carry out specific tasks based on certain commands or gestures, it could go long way in helping improve elderly care.” (Rhenu Bhuller, senior vice president healthcare at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.)
The first “issue” of Peppers will go on sale to the public in February of next year. You can have your own robot that feels your pain for 198,000 yen ($1,930; £1,150).