SCENE IN TOKYO: SoftBank's Public Pepper Performance
SCENE IN TOKYO
...wherein we sink teeth into a flaming cliché and fiddle around with homonyms and wordplay transitive to retelling our daily living, working, and existing as mostly sentient bipedal mammals, hive-minding about the big, big city...with video makers in our pockets!
SoftBank's Public Pepper Performance (HARAJUKU WARD, TOKYO)
Early last month, at a hurriedly announced (yet very well planned) Tokyo press conference, SoftBank wowed much of the world when they unveiled their highly advanced Pepper robotics project. Being that SoftBank is known most prominently as the upstart telecom that brought the iPhone and thus smartphones to Japan, that the company had a very mature robotics project up its sleeve was more than a bit surprising to the general public.
Also surprising was that the emotion reading robots were going to be sent out into SoftBank stores the very next day. Not only that, SoftBank plans to make them available for purchase early next year for under $2000.00. The important point to dig here is that this ain't no ASIMO-like research platform that seldom leaves the lab: the untethered and mostly autonomous Pepper went public straight away.
The Semi-Secret French Robo-Connection
Now, in robodorky circles, there'd been a long-running rumor/suspicion that something like this was imminent. However, even though SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son had clearly and publicly articulated his robotics ambitions years ago, there was no way SoftBank could build Pepper on its own. That's where the French firm Aldebaran Robotics, well known for its advanced and widely successful NAO robot, came into play.
And here's the key: outside of the aforementioned robodorky circles, almost no one paid attention to SoftBank's early 2012 acquisition of Aldebaran, but it all makes a whole lot of sense now, doesn't it? SoftBank and Aldebaran researchers were mashed up, Foxconn was hired to manufacture, and an emotional, empathetic, and soon to be commercially available robot was born.
Two Ladies and a Robot - More than Meets the Eye!
The Harajuku SoftBank store sees all manner of people lining up to interact with Pepper, but the two ladies in this video aren't mere civilians. In the photo above, on the right is our PR contact from GM Japan (Corvette, anyone?), and on the left is Dr. Angelica Lim, who specializes in robot emotions and is part of the Aldebaran/SoftBank team working on Pepper's UX and app development (yep, Pepper's going to have an app store).*
For one robodorky writer, it was a very special SCENE IN TOKYO.
*Correction: We reported earlier that Dr. Lim had worked on Pepper's emotional interaction capabilities, but heretofore her emotional robotics research has was limited to NAO, Aldebaran's other plastic friend.