Softbank plans to finally unleash its Pepper humanoid robot in the United States in 2016. Pepper initially will focus on the commercial market, not residential users. Steve Carlin, VP of marketing and business development at Softbank Robotics America, said there isn’t an official launch date at this point.
The commercial angle shouldn’t come as a surprise as Pepper is already being used by approximately 700 businesses, according to Softbank’s Shohei Fujiwara. Pepper is probably best known for selling iPhones at Softbank mobile stores in Tokyo. But it also joined two cruise lines and is helping a Tokyo half-way house mentor ex-cons in hopes of preventing them from committing future crimes.
You might also see Pepper working at hotels. The Nao robot, also made by Softbank, was tested as a concierge at the Hilton McLean in Virginia. The Nao robot, called Connie, answered questions from guests about nearby restaurants, tourist attractions and more. However, Carlin told The Robotics Trends Show that ultimately Pepper will replace Nao as the robot concierge of choice.
To tap into Pepper’s potential, Softbank also announced the Linux-based bot is adding an Android developer platform. Carlin told IEEE Spectrum that the Android SDK will “broaden the audience that we can bring on to the platform.”
Pre-sales of models for developers will begin from July 2016. And since many developers won’t actually own Pepper, Softbank’s SDK includes a virtual Pepper they can program and control.
Pepper stands just under 4 feet tall and has three omni-directional wheels. Pepper also has a 3D camera to detect passengers movements along with a 10 inch touch screen. Pepper has a tablet in its chest that can be used for engagement and communication, but it can also communicate via speech.
Pepper became available to Japanese consumers in June 2015. Since then, 1,000 units of the robot have gone on sale every month, each time selling out in a matter of seconds.