TOKYO – A cooing, gesturing humanoid on wheels that can decipher emotions has been unveiled in Japan by billionaire Masayoshi Son, who says robots should be tender and make people smile.
Son’s mobile phone company Softbank said Thursday that the robot it has dubbed Pepper will go on sale in Japan in February for $1,900. Overseas sales plans are under consideration but undecided.
The machine, which has no legs but has gently gesticulating hands, appeared on a stage, cooing and humming.
Son, who told the crowd that his longtime dream was to go into the personal robot business, said Pepper has been programmed to read the emotions of people around it by recognizing expressions and voice tones.
“Our aim is to develop affectionate robots that can make people smile,” he said.
Cuddly robots are not new in Japan, a nation dominated by “kawaii,” or cute culture, but no companion robot has emerged a major market success yet.
Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony Corp. discontinued the Aibo pet-dog robot in 2006, despite an outcry from its fans. At that time, Sony had developed a child-shaped entertainment robot, capable of dances and other charming moves, which never became a commercial product.
Many other Japanese companies have developed various robots to entertain and serve as companions.
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 in coming years. Robotic technology is already used to check on the elderly and monitor their health and safety, but robots might also play a role in reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Softbank said Pepper can dance and tell jokes. The machine will be on display starting today at Softbank retailers.
Softbank owns Sprint in the U.S. and boasts more than 100 million subscribers globally.