Listen to this article
If you’re a fan of the Pepper humanoid robot, you might want to stop reading this. We reported last week Softbank Robotics Europe was laying off 40% of its employees in Paris, and that Softbank as a whole wouldn’t be focusing on the Nao and Pepper robots much going forward. What we couldn’t confirm was just how much focus there would be.
It turns out there won’t be much at all.
According to Reuters, Softbank actually stopped production of Pepper in 2020. Reuters cites unnamed sources who said 27,000 Pepper robots were manufactured since it was introduced in 2014. Two of the sources said it would be costly to restart production.
Of course, Softbank isn’t interested in restarting production. Pepper has been a money-losing proposition since it was introduced. Softbank Robotics Europe, formerly known as Aldebaran Robotics before it was acquired by Softbank for $100 million in 2012, lost $38 million in its fiscal 2019-2020 year and more than $119 million over the last three years. Price and capability were often issues for Pepper, which costs $30,000 in the U.S.
A Softbank Robotics Europe employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Robot Report last week that “the market for Nao and Pepper is smaller than we expected.”
As we wrote last week, it’s been clear for a while that both Nao and Pepper weren’t going to be a major part of Softbank’s robotics strategy going forward. In January 2021, for example, Softbank Group announced that Softbank Robotics will jointly develop robots with Japanese electronics maker Iris Ohyama. The joint venture, called Iris Robotics, never mentions Nao or Pepper.
Softbank’s Whiz cleaning robot is Softbank’s new flagship robot, according to a source The Robot Report spoke with last week.
Softbank has made other changes to its robotics strategy, most notably offloading 80% of its ownership stake in Boston Dynamics to Hyundai for $880 million. It also paid $2.8 billion for a 40% ownership stake in AutoStore, a leading developer of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). The logistics market is booming automation-wise, and now Softbank is tied up with a major player. AutoStore currently has a global blue-chip customer base with more than 600 installations and 20,000 robots across 35 countries.
Softbank also recently partnered with Bear Robotics on serving and bussing robots. Founded in 2017, Bear Robotics’ robots operate in restaurants, corporate campuses, ghost kitchens, senior care facilities, and casinos across North America, Asia, and Europe. Softbank is an investor in Bear Robotics.