In September 2014, Japanese telecom giant SoftBank and French robotic company Aldebaran held a developers conference in Tokyo on its well-known robot project, Pepper. During the event, SoftBank unveiled the robot’s technical specifications and app development tools. After receiving a lot more orders than anticipated, the company delivered its first shipment of 300 Peppers in February of this year, and all of the robots were sold out within first few minutes when the sale was announced. The sale’s huge success showed that Pepper has captured the public’s imagination and the level of interest will only continue to rise as time goes by. Harrison Po, consultant of Topology, a division of TrendForce, said SoftBank’s Pepper has opened another window of opportunity in the market for smart service robots. In the future, the market size of this kind of robots will grow with new and diverse applications. The sales of service robots, for example, has surpassed 5 million units and is projected to grow by 20% in 2015.
SoftBank has laid out a detailed and ambitious strategy in the promotion of its creation. The company’s goal is to attract developers with aggressive pricing for the purchase of the device and affordable monthly fees on accessing SoftBank’s cloud database of robot AI and other services. Each Pepper costs 198,000 Japanese yens and the cloud services cost 24,600 yens per month. SoftBank hopes that as more developers work on Pepper’s apps, the robot will later be able to enter the consumer market with an improved and wide repertoire of functions. Pepper will be available to the wider public in the middle of this year.
Po said that SoftBank’s innovative approach allows developers to build apps on robots like they are doing it on smartphones. The developers can expand Pepper’s functions by downloading and installing apps onto the robot, and they can further verify and modify these apps. Po expects the quickly sold-out Pepper to initiate a new wave of artificial intelligence and app development craze.
Pepper is unique for being the first robot in world that does not serve a utilitarian purpose, such as doing household chores. Instead, this robot is designed to be a life companion, with the ability to recognize people’s emotions and provide appropriate responses. It is also designed for the consumer market. While the robot is both inexpensive and limited in functions, it can evolve with the help of its AI and new apps. Pepper can be programmed with additional emotions. Therefore, it can also become better at judging and reacting to people’s thoughts and feelings. Based on Topology’s assessment, Pepper’s arrival on the market will create the same revolutionary impact as other former emerging industries like computers, the Internet, and smartphones.