Emotional robot set for sale in Japan next year

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 5, 2014 at 11:20 pm •  Published: June 5, 2014

When a person shouted in a big voice to test out how well it read emotions, it didn't do much except to say: "You look like an honest person."

In Thursday's demonstration, Pepper sang, "I want to be loved," and it did more singing and gesturing with its hands Friday.

But all its song-and-dance acts seemed to prove was that the machine needs to learn a lot more tricks to impress robot-savvy Japanese. The Softbank shop barely drew a crowd besides a pack of reporters with their cameras.

Cuddly robots are not new in Japan, a nation dominated by "kawaii," or cute culture, but no companion robot has emerged as a major market success yet.

Sony Corp. discontinued the Aibo pet-dog robot in 2006, despite an outcry from its fans. Honda Motor Co. has developed the walking, talking Asimo robot, which appears in Honda showrooms and gala events.

Many other Japanese companies, including Hitachi Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corp., have developed various robots. There is little emphasis on delivering on practical work, in contrast to industrial robots at factories and military robots for war.

But the potential is great for intelligent machines as the number of elderly requiring care is expected to soar in rapidly-aging Japan. Robotic technology is already used to check on the elderly and robots might also play a role in reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Softbank, which owns Sprint of the U.S., boasts more than 100 million subscribers globally. Aldebaran Robotics, which has offices in France, China, Japan and the U.S., is 78.5 percent owned by Softbank.

"I've believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us and make people grow," said Bruno Maisonnier, founder and chief executive of Aldebaran, who appeared on the stage with Son.

Pepper can get information from cloud-based databases and comes with safety features to avoid crashes and falls, and its capabilities can grow by installing more robot applications, according to Softbank.

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Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osD6O4LAcpo

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama