Meet Pepper, Softbank’s Emotion-Reading Robot

Softbank-Pepper

It’s comforting to know that when our robot overlords do take over, they will be fully capable of understanding human emotions.

At a press conference yesterday, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son pulled the curtains back from a new model of robot that will be able to “read” human emotions and react to them. Standing 120 cm tall (just shy of four feet), Pepper sports some impressive features: highly articulated arm and hand joints, a 12-hour battery life, and infrared sensors that help it maintain a comfortable amount of personal space between it and its users (because there’s nothing that annoys us like having an intelligent robot all up in our faces—or stomachs, given its height). A software developer’s kit is going to be offered later in the year, to allow programmers to design everything from simple gestures to very complex series of movements.

However, where Pepper takes a first step into a brave new world is its promised capacity to recognize its owners’ emotions, moods, and feelings and act accordingly. Four directional mics will allow the ’bot to pick up on different tones of voice, and cameras should help it read faces for emotional cues. The robot will record memorable events in its users’ households and the emotions that went along with them, and eventually this data will be uploaded to a kind of cloud-based AI system that other models will be able to use. Given how secure everyone’s data is, we can’t see anything possible going wrong here…

Pepper was actually designed by the French company Aldebaran; Softbank bought an 80% stake in the robotics firm in 2012. If you’d like to see the robot in the flesh/white plastic, you can drop by at one of Softbank’s stores in Omotesando and Ginza, where your reactions and emotions will help train the first generation of models, which are going to go on sale for an estimated ¥198,000 ($1,930) starting February 2015.

Here’s a first look at the little guy:

To be honest, some of his movement patterns are hanging out around one side of the uncanny valley. But here’s looking to that SDK…some day, a troop of Peppers might make their way into a music video like these ASIMOs did for Beck a few years back:

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