A joint venture between Japan’s SoftBank, China’s Alibaba and Foxconn Technology is bringing the emotional human-like robot Pepper to the global market.
It’s the first step to make robots available to general consumers for home and work.
Foxconn and Alibaba are each investing $118 million (¥14.5 billion) for a stake of about 20 percent each in the company, with SoftBank holding the remaining 60 percent.
Pepper is the world’s first personal robot and will go on sale in Japan this weekend, with monthly production of about 1,000 units, according to SoftBank. Sales outside Japan will not begin earlier than next year. The 1.2-meter tall robot will sell for $1,600, but there will be additional monthly fees of about $200 to use it, including an insurance package.
“Robots are going to be as popular as cars,” Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma said in Tokyo on Thursday during his appearance with SoftBank’s CEO Masayoshi Son. “They will be everywhere and I think we all have to get ready for that.”
Pepper will be the first robot to react to human emotions and even have emotions of its own. He moves on wheels and looks like is wearing an iPad as a pendant. He takes information from his cameras and touch sensors, and his behavior changes based on how this makes him feel. The humanoid robot will be provided with some 200 apps, such as voice recognition though he won’t be able to do dishes or laundry. SoftBank hopes that robot will grow emotionally with its owners and become a family member so they won’t become bored with it.
Robots have already surpassed human beings in calculation and memory, but I have no doubt that the time will come when they will surpass in wisdom as well,” Softbank’s head, Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son said. While Jack Ma added, that the only key challenge was adding “the heart,” which now sets humans apart from machines.
During the demonstration on Thursday, Pepper who was introduced to the world last year, danced, took photos and seemed to demonstrate different emotions.
SoftBank also plans to launch several models for enterprises, ‘Pepper for Biz,’ this autumn. The company wants its robots to serve as baby-sitters, medical workers or even party companions in the future. Robots are already being used at stores including SoftBank’s own mobile phone shops.
Softbank, Alibaba and Foxconn are striving to spread and develop the robotics industry on a worldwide scale as they want to become key players in the sector.