Pepper goes to Google I/O

SoftBank Robotics America is teaming up with IBM and Google to take the AI industry by storm!

Japanese telecom conglomerate SoftBank announced at Google IO last week that their chatty humanoid robot, Pepper, is to come to America this year. SoftBank Robotics America informed Google IO attendees that a new developer portal is now open to any enthusiasts interested in developing applications for the robot. At the IO, SoftBank Robotics America engineers took to the stage introducing an SDK for Android OS.

“We’re so excited to see what the development community can bring on to our platform,” Steve Carlin, vice president of marketing and business development for SoftBank Robotics America, said, “ultimately what is going to really power Pepper is the creativity of this community.” Initially, Pepper is more geared towards businesses and big companies than homes. A plethora of retailers in Japan as well as in Europe are using Pepper to assist customers — companies include Nestlé, Carrefour and Nissan.

Most importantly, SoftBank Robotics America announced at the conference that it is opening a new Pepper-centric office in the San Francisco Bay Area and that they are opening their doors for all interested programmers to write code for the robot using their developer portal. “Pepper is ultimately an unfinished product, and we just wanted to incentivize developers to expand the ways in which people can engage with a humanoid robot,” says Steve Carlin, vice president of SoftBank Robotics America.

Pepper is a white robot with some human features including big eyes, arms, hands and legs — and a display screen as a chest. Pepper is also able to detect and read human emotions through visual and audio reading, using its microphones and cameras. SoftBank Robotics America announced that the bot is meant to “be much more than a robot, but a genuine humanoid companion created to communicate in the most natural and intuitive way.”

While Pepper is a robot, human interaction with it is intended to mimic the way we interact with each other. The bot is already interacting with customers at over 100 Softbank Mobile stores in Japan, taking orders at quite a few fast food joints and discussing car models at various dealerships. Pepper’s first uses within the US are planned to be commercial for now, specifically in the hospitality and retail industries. Another use for Pepper being researched is tasks such as asking dementia patients repetitive series of questions, with no risk of human impatience and/ or frustration.

Earlier this year, SoftBank Robotics America came to the San Francisco Bay Area to stay close to its partners, partner up with Microsoft and IBM and newly teaming up with Google to add the programming abilities of the universally ubiquitous Android platform.

Carlin explained that programmers interested in working on Pepper and on tech related to Pepper would be given access to “a best in class developer portal” including a forum for developers, workshops about robotics and of course, access to SoftBank Robotics America’s engineering team. “Humanoid robotics are very new,” he added, “our goal is to demystify things as much as we can so we get a broader group to come on board and help program Pepper.” SoftBank Robotics has not made any declarations about when Android tablets would be available for the robot. Safe to say, the innovations in the robotics world are beginning to catch up with what people have been dreaming of for a long time.