Office ready: Pepper robot gets a major upgrade

pepper robots

Robots may not be quite the headline-grabbers at CES as they used to be, but that doesn’t mean robotic developments aren’t important at the show.

And Softbank, the maker of superstar robot Pepper, has introduced some upgrades that are just as significant as brand new launches because they reflect our increasing acceptance of robotics in our everyday lives.

The company said this week that its cute humanoid robot now has “front of office capabilities, giving businesses more flexibility to create relevant and meaningful interactions through a unique, conversational experience”. 

It’s an interesting development, although it also means it opens the door for businesses to replace more humans with robots some time in the near future.

Softbank said Pepper can now act as a receptionist or concierge to “greet and attend to guests more efficiently.” It will also have the added integration of chatbot functionality “which offers deeper engagements and enhanced conversation – a key part of Pepper’s evolution as a true business solution.”

The company said the new features enhance those added last May and “will provide customers with immediate, amiable, and innovative engagements while creating a lasting impression.” This statement is key, as Pepper is specifically designed to aid robotics in seeming “amiable” and unthreatening. 

Nobody could ever imagine a robot uprising after spending a few minutes in Pepper’s company and that reassurance is important in a world where many people are still robot-averse.

Softbank said the features, including the chatbot and facial recognition integrations, “were designed with the non-technical user in mind, allowing businesses to customise Pepper without the need for expensive technical overhead, or development prowess.”

“We’re coming to a point in Pepper’s life cycle where we can truly support the industries Pepper is meant to serve,” said chief strategy office Steve Carlin. “The evolution of robot-centric technologies will create more meaningful and dynamic interactions with Pepper, and other social robots. Our goal for Pepper is to be more helpful to human colleagues while putting consumers face-to-face with robotics today.”

The new solution is built on Microsoft Azure infrastructure, but the firm said customers can “easily integrate their own chatbot onto [it] through cloud-based chatbot platforms” including Dialogflow and MSBot by partnering with Satisfi Labs, or by leveraging their own engineering teams.

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