Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank Corp. recently held an app competition for its humanoid robot, Pepper, in Tokyo. The contest was won by Project Team Dementia. The team developed software that enables Pepper to carry on simple conversations with dementia patients, urge them to wake up and take their medication at a scheduled time. Pepper can also report to a doctor via the Internet.
Pepper is a 121-cm-tall humanoid robot equipped with artificial intelligence and connectivity to the Internet. It can respond to human voice, carry on simple conversations with humans and even read body language and facial expressions with its video camera eyes.
The team was awarded a ¥1 million prize. Hideki Yoshimura, leader of the winning team, explained that with Japan’s aging population dementia is on the increase and has become a serious social problem, hence the dementia app.SoftBank Group and Aldebaran Robotics SAS (“Aldebaran”), the world leader in humanoid robotics, announced their joint development of “Pepper”, the world's first personal robot that can read emotions in June 2014.
Japan has a very valid reason for its interest in robotics. The country faces a serious labor force shortage due to an aging population and a stagnant birth rate. The Japanese government sees robots as a solution to this problem and encourages Japanese companies to invest in robotics. According to the International Federation of Robotics Japan has the highest number of industrial robots in operation and is the most automated country in the world with more than 300,000 industrial robots in use.
Although Japan is the predominant robot manufacturing country in the world having supplied more than half of the global robots in 2013, the country has not sold many humanoid robots for use in service industries.
SoftBank wants to change this. Sales to the public was originally planned for February but SoftBank has postponed them. The Japan Times reports that Softbank plans to sell the first 300 units to app developers so more apps can be developed for Pepper. The robot will cost ¥198,000 (USD 1,660) and users will have to pay an additional ¥14,800 (USD 124) per month to use Internet service for the robot.
More application software will most probably make the humanoid more attractive, useful and viable product for consumers.