June 16, 2014
A Robot With A Heart
Have you ever felt that your car, your computer, your cell phone, or some other piece of technology had a personality? I have. That is why I tend to name vehicles, actually. It does not take long to learn their quirks, what they like, and when they will fight you. Sure, many of these “personality traits” are just flaws/quirks with their design, but it is not hard to liken them to the device having a personality of its own. People do this sort of thing all the time. I mean, I have seen people hold conversations – one-sided ones, given – with their cars or their computers before and cannot deny that I have done the same in the past myself.
Now we have a machine that really is capable of expressing emotion. Meet Pepper, a robot designed by a collaboration between SoftBank, a Japanese Internet and telecommunications company, and Aldebaran Robotics, the creators of other humanoid robots such as Nao and Romeo, that is able to read and even respond to the mood of its user.
Standing about four feet tall and weighing 62 pounds, this little robot possesses fully articulated arms and hands, a friendly looking face that looks in no way human – avoiding the uncanny valley – and maneuvers using a roller track in place of legs. It is capable of a range of human interactions and was shown during a recent event in Tokyo bowing, shaking hands, waving, and much, much more. Pepper interacts with people by getting feedback from the user via facial-recognition and vocal analysis and via a tablet-like display mounted on the robot’s chest. The unit’s head contains several cameras and audio sensors that help it pick up on ques from its user. Then, rather than possessing a number of preprogrammed responses, Pepper is designed to learn how to behave over time with feedback from its user being uploaded into its cloud storage where it is added to feedback gained by other units so that all Pepper robots will be better able to learn and adapt to human interaction. Then, using this data, the robots will then tailor their responses to their users and what the user is feeling.
“He tries to make you happy,” says Kaname Hayashi, SoftBank’s lead project manager.
Capable of speaking in 17 different languages, Pepper was designed with the idea that in the not too distant future, robots like this one will be a common addition to the household, used to do things like help care for and provide company to the elderly as well as simply provide companionship to people all over the world. In that regard, Pepper is slated to be the forerunner of that future. “People may look back 100 years later, or 200 years later (and say) that was a historic moment we are having today,” said Masayoshi Son, SoftBank’s CEO.
Pepper is already on display at two SoftBank stores in Japan and is set to go on sale sometime early next year for only 2,000 US dollars, which many analysts are saying is surprisingly low for such an incredible device. Unfortunately, there is no word when – or if – Pepper will ever be on sale outside of Japan. Even so, this is a remarkable development in the field of human/robot interaction and I am more than a little excited to see what comes of it.
Image Credit: SoftBank