SoftBank Robotics is about to launch a platform to develop apps for its humanoid robot and, after Japan, sets off to conquer Europe
The Pepper robot, in the near future, will be able to perform many more tasks than it does today such as, for example, keeping an eye on the house when the owners are out, or vacuuming when necessary. SoftBank Robotics provides the tools and programmers their talents and imagination.
"Developers are already able to build applications for the Pepper robot using Android tools, but SoftBank Robotics is also thinking of opening a site - similar to a mobile "app store" - that would allow interested programmers to sell software to owners of the little robot," explained Nicolas Boudot, director of sales for the EMEA region, at MWC 2017. Boudot gave a few examples of possible applications such as household cleaning or elderly care, but he also pointed out that SoftBank Robotics, right now, is focusing on increasing Pepper's sales.
The humanoid robot Pepper, in fact, is not a toy, at least not on an economic level: it costs, in fact, $20,000. It must also be said that sales are going pretty well because SoftBank Robotics has sold about 10,000 units since Pepper came to market in 2015. The downside is that most of the purchases are coming from corporations, mostly Japanese, despite efforts to engage the consumer market as well. SoftBank Group Corp currently uses Pepper as a "helper" in its mobile phone stores in Japan, and recently released a collection of apps developed specifically for the home such as, for example, the ability to control lighting for robots purchased by individual consumers.
Pepper is, in fact, the brainchild of a French startup that was acquired by Japan's SoftBank for $100 million in 2012, and which subsequently pushed hard to introduce the robot in Japan. Now the giant of the rising sun is trying to do the same thing in Europe. It has already managed to "place" 40 Pepper in Carrefour supermarkets, and another 30 on board Costa Crociere ships. Pepper, in the United States, works as a "master of ceremonies" in the Pyramid Taproom at Oakland International Airport. Boudot confesses, however, that Europeans are more wary of robots than the Japanese, and that "in Europe we fear that robots will steal our jobs." Softbank, however, goes its own way. The Pepper robot already uses voice recognition technology from Nuance, but it is also in talks with Microsoft. And it shouldn't be forgotten that SoftBank bought ARM - a chip maker - for $32 billion last July, so it's possible, but not confirmed, that it will abandon Intel processors.