Pepper, the humanoid robot created by Aldebaran Robotics and SoftBank Mobile, is slowly making its way to the US — and it’s starting in Silicon Valley. The robot was seen in action this week at the b8ta store in Palo Alto, California, a gadget shop launched by former Nest employees.
Pepper was on a demo loop at the store, so we weren’t able to fully interact with it. But the idea behind Pepper is that it’s supposed to interpret and respond to a variety of customer needs. Using a combination of 2D and 3D cameras in its eyes and mouth, plus four multi-directional microphones, Pepper is able to “read” four human emotions — happiness, joy, sadness, and anger — and respond accordingly. It rolls up to you, raises its hands in greeting when you introduce yourself, and turns its head toward you when you move or talk. It is toylike and adorable.
What’s more interesting than Pepper’s supposed emotional quotient is its potential to know exactly what you’re doing in a store. Right now, more than 10,000 of these robots have been deployed across Japan or are in pilot trials in Europe, and the vast majority are being used in retail and hospitality businesses. A Pepper robot might know when you’ve entered a store, how much time you’ve spent there, how many products you interact with, or whether you seem happy or angry when you pick up a product. It will tell you, “That camera is 20 percent off,” in its innocent-kid-voice, its big eyes blinking at you, and make you think about buying that camera.