Hu­manoid ro­bot Pep­per is amus­ing, but is it prac­ti­cal?

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

SAN FRAN­CISCO:

While mer­rily chirp­ing, danc­ing and pos­ing for self­ies, a ro­bot named Pep­per looks like an­other ex­pen­sive toy at a San Fran­cisco mall. But don’t dis­miss it as mere child’s play. Pep­per em­bod­ies the am­bi­tions of SoftBank Ro­bot­ics, an Asian joint ven­ture formed by a trio of ma­jor tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies that’s aim­ing to put its per­son­able ro­bots in busi­nesses and homes across the US over the next few years.

If the tech­nol­ogy ad­vances as Softbank Ro­bot­ics hopes, Pep­per could be­come a play­mate, com­pan­ion and concierge. It could even­tu­ally re­spond to voice com­mands to re­trieve vi­tal in­for­ma­tion, make reser­va­tions and con­trol home ap­pli­ances that are con­nected to the in­ter­net.

That’s the the­ory, any­way. For now, Pep­per is more amus­ing than prac­ti­cal, For­rester Re­search an­a­lyst J.P. Gown­der says. For in­stance, Pep­per has been di­rect­ing shop­pers to stores in the mall through text mes­sages be­cause it still isn’t ad­vanced enough to say them out loud. And Pep­per still has trou­ble un­der­stand­ing what peo­ple are ask­ing, re­quir­ing shop­pers to type in their re­quests for mall di­rec­tions on a tablet mounted on the ro­bot’s chest.

SoftBank is try­ing to im­prove Pep­per’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties by fo­cus­ing first on the busi­ness mar­ket - re­tail­ers, ho­tels, auto deal­er­ships and even hos­pi­tals. SoftBank hopes to use those en­vi­ron­ments to learn more about what con­sumers like and don’t like about Pep­per and, from that, teach it more tasks, said Steve Car­lin, the ven­ture’s vice pres­i­dent for mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment in North Amer­ica.

Greet­ings in the mall

The re­cently launched test runs in West­field Corp.’s malls in San Fran­cisco and Santa Clara, Cal­i­for­nia, mark the first time that Pep­per has made an ex­tended ap­pear­ance in the US. The ro­bots be­gan ap­pear­ing just be­fore Thanks­giv­ing and will stick around through mid-Fe­bru­ary. Car­lin says about 300 to 500 peo­ple per day en­gaged with Pep­per dur­ing its first month in the San Fran­cisco mall. Dur­ing a re­cent visit, kids flocked around the 4foot-tall hu­manoid as it spoke in a cheru­bic voice that could be­long to ei­ther a boy or girl. West­field views Pep­per as a way to make shop­ping in the mall more en­ter­tain­ing and en­joy­able at a time when peo­ple are in­creas­ingly buy­ing mer­chan­dise on­line. —AP

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