After a successful debut in Japan, Pepper Robot, the first emotional robot, returns to the land of his birth (manufacture?). It only seems right that the first nation in the West to get a look at this new robot is France. After all, Pepper was developed and manufactured there by the French company Aldebaran. Aldebaran, by the way, is the same company that developed and manufactured NAO, the world’s most widely used robot in education.
Pepper’s Japanese debut was an unqualified success. In June of 2014, the first thousand units of this robot sold out in less than a minute. Another 1000 sold in less than a minute a month later in July and again in August and September! The robot made its first appearance in Japan because the Japanese company Softbank, of which Aldebaran is a subsidiary, possibly wanted to demonstrate to the increasingly demographically-challenged Japanese that it was possible to produce a robot at a reasonable price that could serve as a friend for the lonely-old.
That last phrase is worth dwelling on: Pepper’s journey to France is not the return of the prodigal son. Pepper is anything but an ostentatious display of wealth. Beautifully sleek and understated it sold for a very reasonable $1700 in Japan. Also, Pepper Robot is a friend and companion, not a servant! Pepper doesn’t do windows, dishes or cooking. Softbank says Pepper was designed to communicate with its significant human whoever they may be. It will follow his or her vocal commands, read his or her emotions and react accordingly.
We hope that France’s acceptance of its native son? daughter? is followed soon thereafter by Pepper’s arrival in the United States. While this country, unlike Japan, doesn’t have a problem with too few young people in the demographic pipeline, we do have our share of the lonely-old.