October 17, 2016
Cool Or Creepy? Pepper The Robot Has 'Emotion And Heart,' And May Be Good Companion For Elderly

A "robot with love" is now a reality in Japan.

Developers there have created Pepper, a humanoid bot that not only reads human emotions, but has some of her own. Pepper the robot can carry on basic conversations, read people's facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice to discern emotion, and now uses an" endocrine-type multi-layer neural network" to create emotions based on its communication with humans, Japan Times reported.

The droid develops a unique personality based on its interactions with people and can react to humans with their own, simulated emotions -- anger, joy, or irritation. It remembers faces, will act irritable and sad when left alone for a long time, and happy when given attention, compliments or is touched and "feels" anxious in the dark.

The almost four-foot tall robot runs on wheels, has moving arms, and a hairless head, CBC recounted. Pepper only costs $1,600, and the applications needed to run it will set you back another couple hundred; monthly service fees cost another $200, and users have to sign a three-year contract to own one, BBC added.

But that seems like a modest price to pay for a robot with a kind heart.

Pepper is the brainchild of SoftBank Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son, who got the inspiration for the robot from animated Japanese character Astro Boy. He didn't have a heart or understand why people cried. So not only does Son's robot have a simulated heart, it cries computerized tears -- lights pool in her eyes.

Son believes that robots like Pepper can be transformative. Though critics point out its limits -- it can't lift, doesn't have the dexterity needed to do chores, and can only get around on flat surfaces -- the robot has many features that could be put to other uses.

"I think no matter if you like it or you don't, robots are going to be as popular as cars, as machines, as airplanes," said Jack Ma, executive chairman of e-commerce partner Alibaba, told the Wall Street Journal. "Robots will be a part of the family."

It could teach school kids, or work in retail shops and offices (SoftBank plans to rent it out to businesses on a per day basis for that purpose) or, more importantly, to take care of the elderly. And it that aspect, Pepper has some pretty interesting and heart-warming abilities.

Japan's elderly population is growing, and therefore so is the number of people with dementia, and they just don't have enough workers to care for them (by 2025, the country could have 7 million patients with the illness).

Pepper can wake these people up, get them to take their meds when they're supposed to, beam reports to the doctor. But they also could have a more intimate job -- talking to them every day, and asking questions about their family to exercise their memory. The bot also has the ability to cheer people when they're sad.

SoftBank claims they'll be able to make 1,000 of Pepper a month.

[Photo Courtesy Twitter]