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SoftBank Pauses Pepper Robot’s Production

Pepper had gained attention as one of the first humanoid robots capable of reading emotions.

Pepper, the sympathetic little humanoid robot that launched with great fanfare in 2014, looks like it can be retired – for now at least. Its creator, the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, confirmed that production had been on hiatus for a while. Moreover, he stated that it would only be used again when he needed it. The company is also cutting jobs at its global robotics operation in France, according to Reuters. About half of the 330 jobs there will disappear, he reports.

Pepper had gained attention as one of the first humanoid robots capable of reading emotions. It has been promoted for being used as a home companion and in public places such as shops and train stations. But despite some profile appearances at conferences and events, it never really caught on as a commercial product. According to Reuters, only 27,000 units were manufactured. This was in part due to the price of $1,790 (£1,290). The 4-feet, the 62-pound robot was primarily used as a research and teaching tool for schools, colleges, and universities.

In this file photo taken on February 8, 2021, a pedestrian walks past the logo for telecom and investment giant SoftBank Group along a street in Tokyo. – Japanese investment giant SoftBank Group will buy a 40 percent stake in Norwegian robotics company AutoStore in a deal worth 2.8 billion USD, the two firms said on April 5, 2021. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Some of Pepper’s other roles included appearing before a select parliamentary committee in the UK to answer questions about the use of AI in the classroom in 2018. In the same year, it started operating as a customer engagement robot at HSBC’s flagship New York branch. Last year it was tested in nursing homes in the UK as a companion robot, helping autistic students at a school in Somerset. It was also used as a receptionist in several offices worldwide. In July 2020, it welcomed travelers at a Montreal airport, where a group of robots was used as cheerleaders during a baseball game.

Robotics expert Professor Noel Sharkey said that he would be happy to see the end of it. He stated that Pepper has damaged actual robotics research by giving the false impression of a brilliant cognitive being who could hold conversations, but was mostly remote controlled with a human conversing through his speakers. Deceiving the public in this way is dangerous and gives false impressions about AI to the real world. 

At CES 2021, several new assistance robots were announced- like the Samsung Bot Handy and the LG CLOi UV-C- on their way to homes in the future, but neither of them has the same twinkle in their eyes as SoftBank’s Pepper robot. Most of them don’t have eyes at all, and this is where the Japanese robotics company went wrong.

Writer: Imaaz Nadeem

Reporter: Zarrish

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