Softbank's Pepper Robot Makes Emotional Debut in Japan

TOKYO — Japanese telecommunications giant Softbank Corp. on Thursday unveiled a new humanoid robot named Pepper, which the company claimed can identify human emotions and respond to them.


Pepper joins the pantheon of other widely known humanoid robots, such as Honda's Asimo and NASA's Robonaut. Unlike Robonaut, Pepper isn't meant to take the place of humans in dangerous environments like deep space. Instead, it's designed to work alongside us.

Developed together with French Aldebaran Robotics, the sleek and slender Pepper can move around on its roller wheels, but its main features include verbal and physical communication. It's equipped with an emotion recognition system to decipher what's behind voice tones.

"Our aim is to develop affectionate robots that can make people smile," Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son said during Thursday's unveiling at a Tokyo news conference. Son and Aldebaran founder Bruno Maisonnier shared the stage with Pepper for a demonstration of the robot's capabilities.

Image: Humanoid robot 'Pepper', equipped with an emotion engine, 'speaks' during a press conference
The humanoid robot called Pepper ""speaks" during a Softbank news conference. Toru Yamanaka / AFP - Getty Images

Pepper can take in data from two cameras, four microphones and more than a dozen touch sensors built into its body. It can also access information from the Internet and cloud-based databases.

During Thursday's demonstration, Pepper sang, "I want to be loved." Softbank says the robot can also dance and tell jokes.

Son announced that Pepper prototypes will go on display at Softbank stores on Friday. The robots will go on sale in Japan next February for under $2000.

Image: Masayoshi Son and Pepper
Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of Japan's SoftBank telecommunication company, introduces Pepper. Toru Yamanaka / AFP - Getty Images

This report includes information from The Associated Press.