It Will Soon Be Possible to Have Your Own “Emotional” Personal Robot

It seems the future sci-fi movies have been fondly depicting is no longer that far away. From the touch-based smart devices to interactive digital personal assistants, high technology’s undeniable presence in everyday life is becoming more and more evident. Just recently, Japanese telecommunications and Internet company SoftBank announced that they will start selling personal robots next year. According to SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, these personal robots can serve as nurses, emergency medical workers, babysitters, or even as  party companions. These robots will be available in February next year and are deemed to be a solution in labor shortages in Japan’s aging society.

Screenshot from the SoftBank press release on Pepper (

Cropped screenshot from the SoftBank press release on Pepper (

The Specs

The sleekly designed waist-high robot was developed by French robotics company Aldebaran. SoftBank bought a considerable stake in the company back in 2012. The robots will be manufactured by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd. in Taiwan.

The robot is given the name Pepper. It features two cameras, four microphones, and a multitude of sensors attached to different parts of its body. It has one gyro sensor on its chest, a 3D sensor, touch sensors on the hands, two sonar sensors on the “legs,” 6 laser sensors, and 3 bumper sensors. It is capable of connecting online and interacting with cloud-based databases to develop its supposed “emotion.” Pepper is also said to be capable of dancing and telling jokes.

Unfortunately, perhaps in an effort to cut costs, Pepper is incapable of walking in the same way humans do. It has no pair of walking legs. The lower half of its body looks like a stout mermaid’s tail with wheels at the bottom to facilitate movement. Nevertheless, Pepper has hands that have comparable capabilities to the human hands. A total of 20 motors have been employed to enable the movement of the robot’s movable parts. Pepper can move at a speed of up to 3 kilometers per hour.

On Pepper’s chest is a 10.1 inch touch panel display that can show various things and present an interface to help in interacting with humans. In terms of connectivity, Pepper is equipped with a Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n radio and one ethernet port. The operating system used is called NAOqi OS.

Screenshot from the official Aldebaran and SoftBank Group presentation on Pepper

Screenshot from the official Aldebaran and SoftBank Group presentation on Pepper

Robot with Emotions

In a SoftBank press release, Pepper was touted as the world’s first personal robot that reads emotions. The robot speaks with a characteristic high-pitched boyish voice. It looks every bit a robot that most people will likely treat as a toy or a creepy high-tech machine that can interact with humans. However, SoftBank’s CEO claims that Pepper can develop emotions. He said: “For the first time in human history, we’re giving a robot a heart, emotions.” Son adds that “our aim is to develop affectionate robots that can make people smile.”

Pepper, as SoftBank representatives claim, comes with an “emotional engine” that is said to allow owners to talk to it in the same manner they would with family and friends. The robot comes with an advanced voice recognition software and can connect to the Internet to continue developing its emotions. The voice recognition abilities can determine voice tones, moods, or emotions to react in a supposedly appropriate manner. It runs on proprietary algorithms that takes its environment into account to react proactively.


Pepper is designed to make use of apps similar to what are being used on smartphones or tablets. Aldebaran said that the company will be releasing a software development kit (SDK) to enable application developers from different parts of the world to write apps—robot apps to be specific—that can expand the capabilities of Pepper. A tech festival will be held in September 2014 in Tokyo to formally present the technical specifications, development methods, and other pertinent details.

Price and Availability

This “emotional” personal robot appears to be an appealing item to buy but many might hesitate because of the expected price. However, the price announced by SoftBank appears to be not that intimidating. Pepper will be available for sale next year, around February, for the price of 198,000 yen in Japan. That’s around $1,930 or £1,150. Unfortunately, the company did not announce availability in other markets nor was there any mention of actual retail prices as the robot becomes available in stores outside Japan.

Screenshot from the official Aldebaran and SoftBank Group presentation on Pepper

Screenshot from the official Aldebaran and SoftBank Group presentation on Pepper

Robotics Market

Japan is considered as one of the world’s largest robot markets, with an 860 billion yen or $8.4 billion market value estimated in 2012. The demand for household or personal robots is expected to pick up given Japan’s rapidly aging population and alarmingly dropping birth rate. Robots like Pepper are expected to provide assistance in less complicated tasks or to at least provide interactive companions to people.

Pepper is still not a perfect replacement for people who do house chores or provide care for the elderly. However, it’s getting closer to finally developing a robot that can do tasks that could be close to how humans do them. It’s always great to hear advancements in technology and to see real technological creations becoming more accessible to regular users. Pepper’s price may not be that cheap but it’s arguably more affordable than expected, costing around a few hundred dollars more than the diminutive Google Glass.