Innovation

Pepper the robot: The smart person's guide

A 4-foot tall humanoid robot named Pepper, made by Aldebaran, a SoftBank company, interacts with people in hospitals, hotels, and homes. TechRepublic's comprehensive guide explains how Pepper works.

Born in Japan in 2014, Pepper is a 4-foot-tall, 62 pound humanoid robot on wheels. Pepper, which costs in the neighborhood of $1,600, is designed to communicate with people—both as a personal aide and for businesses to use in interactions with customers. A thousand Peppers are put on the market at a time, and they sell out instantly. As of May 2016, 7,000 units of the robot Pepper have been sold.

So, how does Pepper work, and what is it capable of? This comprehensive guide explains what the robot really does.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic's smart person's guide

Executive summary

  • What is Pepper? Pepper is a 4-foot-tall, interactive, humanoid robot released by Aldebaran, a SoftBank company, that is capable of detecting and reacting to humans.
  • Why does Pepper matter? Because of its ability to read emotion, Pepper is being used by companies to communicate with customers.
  • Who does Pepper affect? Pepper is having an impact in people's homes, public spaces, stores, schools, and more.
  • When was Pepper released? Pepper was released on the market in 2015.
  • How can I use Pepper? Pepper is available for businesses, for education and research, and for developers.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)

Image: Aldebaran

What is Pepper?

Built by Aldebaran, a SoftBank company, Pepper was named for its "sparkling personality"—its unique characteristic is its ability to communicate via vocal commands and to interpret, and react to, human emotion. According to Aldebaran, "Pepper can identify joy, sadness, anger or surprise and respond appropriately, making interactions with humans incredibly natural and intuitive."

Pepper has embedded 3D and 2 HD cameras that help it "process images with shape recognition software to identify objects, individual faces and their emotional states of the faces around him."

Because of this ability, Pepper has been seen on cruises—in April 2016, Pepper joined Costa Cruise Lines, a branch of Carnival Cruises, as a "crew member"—as well as in grocery stores, hotels, and schools.

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Why does Pepper matter?

Pepper is one of the leading robots to interact with humans outside of factory settings. Its ability to detect human emotion is a key to its success in this area. Angelica Lim, a roboticist at Aldebaran Robotics in Paris, works as a developer on emotion recognition—a field that includes neuroscience, machine learning, and developmental psychology—to help build robots like Pepper that can understand and express emotions.

Every month in Japan, Lim said, 1,000 Pepper robots are being sold. "It seems we're at the beginning of something huge," said Lim. "We can impact a lot of people through our technology."

And, the popularity of consumer robots is predicted to explode: According to a research study by Tractica, we can expect to see 31.2 million consumer robots sold annually by 2020—up from 6.6 million units in 2015.

But the way that we interact with robots, both at home and in society, also raises other questions. The mere presence of a robot, for instance, can affect human behavior. As the technology becomes part of our daily lives, it's important to question how, and why, we implement it.

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Who does Pepper affect?

Pepper's unique ability to communicate has implications for a broad range of companies, institutions, and public sector areas. Here are some ways Pepper can be used:

  • Nescafe hired 1,000 Pepper robots in December 2015 to help customers searching for coffee machines in their appliance stores.
  • In France, Pepper helps customers at the supermarket Carrefour.
  • In June 2016, Belgian hospitals began using Pepper to interact with patients.

See more in the "how can I use Pepper?" section.

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When was Pepper released?

Pepper was first conceived in 2014, and released on the market a year later. It is put up for sale online in batches of 1000 each month, and is sold out instantly. Here are some highlights:

  • 2014: The creation of Pepper is announced in Japan.
  • June 2015: Pepper is released on the market in Japan.
  • October 2015: Pepper debuts in France.
  • August 2016: Pepper makes its US debut with a visit to San Francisco.

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How can I use Pepper?

There are several ways that Pepper is useful: In business, education and research, and for developers. Here are a few ways to use Pepper in each realm.

Business: Humanoid robots like Pepper can make a big difference in how companies interact with customers and clients because of their ability to communicate verbally. Pepper can serve as a greeter at a storefront, for example. Or, it can offer help with information at an airport or grocery store or cruise ship. Pepper can give a demonstration about products a company offers. Pepper can also be used to guide people in places like bus or train stations.

Education and research: Pepper can be useful in educational and training settings, as well. Nao, Pepper's sister robot, developed by SoftBank Robotics, can be used to conduct research in human-machine interaction, navigation, etc. It can also help developers learn about programming. Pepper is also used in higher education and special education, specifically for helping autistic children. Here's more about what it can do.

Developers: Pepper is available for purchase, and can be useful for developers who want to create robotic applications. Developers who want to build apps for Pepper can use Python and C++ as well as an Android SDK. Here's more on how that works.

Additional resources:

About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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