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Emotional robot set for sale in Japan next year

Emotional Robot Set For Sale In Japan Next Year

By Yuri Kageyama

TOKYO (AP) - A cooing, gesturing humanoid on wheels that can decipher emotions has been unveiled in Japan by billionaire Masayoshi Son who says robots should be tender and make people smile.

Son's mobile phone company Softbank said Thursday that the robot it has dubbed Pepper will go on sale in Japan in February for 198,000 yen ($1,900). Overseas sales plans are under consideration but undecided.

The machine, which has no legs, but has gently gesticulating hands appeared on a stage in a Tokyo suburb, cooing and humming. It dramatically touched hands with Son in a Genesis or "E.T." moment.

Son, who told the crowd that his longtime dream was to go into the personal robot business, said Pepper has been programmed to read the emotions of people around it by recognizing expressions and voice tones.

"Our aim is to develop affectionate robots that can make people smile," he said.

The 121 centimeter (48 inch) tall, 28 kilogram (62 pound) white Pepper, which has no hair but two large doll-like eyes and a flat-panel display stuck on its chest, was developed jointly with Aldebaran Robotics, which produces autonomous humanoid robots.

Besides featuring the latest voice recognition, Pepper is loaded with more than a dozen sensors, including two touch sensors in its hands, three touch sensors on its head, and six laser sensors and three bumper sensors in its base.

It also has two cameras and four microphones on its head and has Wi-Fi and Ethernet networking capabilities.

But a demonstration Friday at a Softbank retailer in Tokyo highlighted the robot's shortcomings as much as its charm.

Voice recognition takes a while to kick in, when its eyes light up in a listening mode after the robot stops talking, making for less than spontaneous dialogue, similar to the frustration one experiences talking with iPhone's Siri.

Pepper was obviously more at ease going into its own chatter, such as asking "Do you do Twitter?" or "Is this the first time you ever spoke to a robot?" But it wouldn't really wait for an answer, rattling on to the next topic.

Sometimes the robot - which, up close, bears a resemblance to C-3PO in "Star Wars," especially in its clueless look - failed to catch a speaker's words and would say: "I could not hear you. Could you say that again?"

When a person shouted in a big voice to test out how well it read emotions, it didn't do much except to say: "You look like an honest person."

In Thursday's demonstration, Pepper sang, "I want to be loved," and it did more singing and gesturing with its hands Friday.

But all its song-and-dance acts seemed to prove was that the machine needs to learn a lot more tricks to impress robot-savvy Japanese. The Softbank shop barely drew a crowd besides a pack of reporters with their cameras.

Cuddly robots are not new in Japan, a nation dominated by "kawaii," or cute culture, but no companion robot has emerged as a major market success yet.

Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony Corp. discontinued the Aibo pet-dog robot in 2006, despite an outcry from its fans. At that time, Sony had developed a child-shaped entertainment robot similar to Pepper but much smaller, capable of dances and other charming moves, which never became a commercial product.

Honda Motor Co. has developed the walking, talking Asimo robot, but that is too sophisticated and expensive for home use, and appears in Honda showrooms and gala events only. Even then, it is prone to glitches because of its complexity.

Many other Japanese companies, including Hitachi Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corp., not to mention universities and startups, have developed various robots, big and small, which entertain and serve as companions.

There is little emphasis on delivering on practical work, in contrast to industrial robots at factories and military robots for war.

But the potential is great for intelligent machines as the number of elderly requiring care is expected to soar in rapidly-aging Japan in coming years. Robotic technology is already used to check on the elderly and monitor their health and safety, but robots might also play a role in reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Softbank, which now owns Sprint of the U.S. and boasts more than 100 million subscribers globally, has been growing rapidly as a mobile carrier in Japan, boosted by being the first to offer Apple's iPhone.

Aldebaran Robotics, which has offices in France, China, Japan and the U.S., is 78.5 percent owned by Softbank.

"I've believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us and make people grow," said Bruno Maisonnier, founder and chief executive of Aldebaran, who appeared on the stage with Son.

Aldebaran has produced more than 5,000 of its Nao humanoid, its first product, which is used for research and educational purposes.

Pepper can get information from cloud-based databases and comes with safety features to avoid crashes and falls, and its capabilities can grow by installing more robot applications, according to Softbank.

Join the discussion

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toolmanoo7 June 06 2014 at 8:23 AM

If they build a life-like suction mouth they will sell billions

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1 reply
gmgpjandon toolmanoo7 June 06 2014 at 11:52 AM

For your information, Fool Tool, Japanese females weren't much for that type of thing. That was pretty much left to people of your ilk. Get out of your own back yard for awhile. You would be amazed at what you find.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
xanadutu June 06 2014 at 2:04 AM

Seems like Japan will have to get rid of their 'blow-up' dolls!!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Elizabeth June 06 2014 at 5:54 AM

Why not get affection from real people, or even a pet?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
mark and sheri June 06 2014 at 1:19 AM

Oops, sorry. Got carried away Time to have a beer with the guys.
Anybody have any Midol?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
onionson mark and sheri June 06 2014 at 6:43 AM

Check with Sheri. I'm sure she must have a stockpile if for no other reason than as an excuse.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
alfredschrader June 06 2014 at 6:49 AM

I can usually beat the best chess computers four out of 300 games, but it's not easy.
If you give a robot that kind of intelligence, it could outsmart you 74 out of 75 times - not good odds in your favor. Be sure to include a "reset" switch.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
halt1025 June 06 2014 at 10:16 AM

obomacare too

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
vigoddess halt1025 June 06 2014 at 1:02 PM

Just think halt1025, if it's okay to have a robot give you emotions, more people will go around
killing one another because that becomes okay as well since robots don't feel, and then
you can support that health system and get on line, though there's a problem because
that hate you carry will also be zapped out by a robot.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
bjredmond64 June 06 2014 at 10:38 AM

cute, but i'd rather have interaction with another human, or even a loving dog. robots kind of creep me out.

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bdetermination3b June 06 2014 at 10:59 AM

To me, he looks rather likd Slenderman!

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cherylhaass June 06 2014 at 11:15 AM

Looks like a cross between ET and a geisha-girl! What does it really DO? Surprisingly affordable, but is it only an expensive toy?

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gmgpjandon June 06 2014 at 11:47 AM

I was in Japan in 1950. There were thousands of beautiful young Japanese girls that would do the same thing and for a lot less money. Green backs were king back then. I think American females have taken up where the Girls of Nippon have left off.

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