AI News, Meet Pepper, Aldebaran's New Personal Robot With an "Emotion Engine"

Meet Pepper, Aldebaran's New Personal Robot With an "Emotion Engine"

French robotics company Aldebaran unveiled today its newest robot, a friendly humanoid named Pepper that seems determined to make everyone smile.

Aldebaran built the robot for SoftBank, the Japanese telecom giant, which plans to start selling it to consumers in Japan next February for 198,000 yen, or about US $1,900.

In the demonstration, the robot moved its body so smoothly that one observer later said it was as if there were a small person inside of it.

The main goal was making Pepper able to recognize people’s emotions by analyzing their speech, facial expressions, and body language, and then deliver appropriate responses.

Pepper’s creators know they can’t program the robot to behave perfectly in all situations, so they wanted the robot to learn on its own.

As Pepper’s technology improves, SoftBank envisions the robot entertaining people at parties, playing with children, and keeping company to the elderly.

The robot is 1.2 meter tall and weighs 28 kilograms, and it carries a 10.1-inch touch screen on its chest.

Aldebaran developed a proprietary mechanism to measure electrical current consumption on each motor, allowing the robot to detect forces on its body.

The robot’s head has four microphones, two HD cameras (in the mouth and forehead), and a 3-D depth sensor (behind the eyes).

The mobile base has two sonars, six lasers, three bumper sensors, and a gyro, and it can drive at up to 3 kilometers per hour [see full specs below].

Pepper’s battery operates for up to 12 hours, though in the future that may change if Aldebaran equips the robot with legs, a possibility that Son mentioned at the event.

Aldebaran plans to open up Pepper to developers (through an API), who’ll be able to create applications that they can offer to other users, much like our smartphone apps, continually expanding the robot’s capabilities.

This robots app strategy is similar to that adopted by other robots such asNEC's PaPeRoand Fujisoft's Palro, which also try to benefit from the rapid adoption of mobile applications.

“Pepper will have a very difficult time getting off the ground as a viable consumer product—the demand and compelling need just isn’t there yet,” another robotics observer told PC World.

Google wants to increase productivity and its robots will be more costly, he said, adding that Pepper is a robot for homes that will offer fun and entertainment.“We wanted to have a robot that maximizes joy and minimizes sadness.”

Maisonnier said personal robots like Pepper will add a new dimension to people’s lives, and they promise to start a revolution as big as the PC, the Internet, and mobile phones.

SoftBank Mobile and Aldebaran Unveil “Pepper” – the World's First Personal Robot That Reads Emotions

(“SoftBank Mobile”), Japan's leading mobile operator, and Aldebaran Robotics SAS (“Aldebaran”), the world leader in humanoid robotics, announced the joint development of “Pepper”, the world's first personal robot that can read emotions.

Pepper also comes equipped with capabilities and an interface that enables communication with people, including the latest voice recognition technology, superior joint technology to realize graceful gestures, and emotion recognition that analyzes expressions and voice tones.

In addition, Pepper can make jokes, dance and amuse people thanks to a wide variety of entertainment capabilities, some of which were developed in cooperation with Yoshimoto Robotics Laboratory, Inc., a Yoshimoto Kogyo Group company.

Furthermore, a variety of applications created by developers around the world, robot apps (programs that can be incorporated into Pepper's various capabilities, including motion, conversation and sensors) are scheduled for expanding Pepper's capabilities.

The Aldebaran software development kit (SDK) will be provided for creating robot apps, and in September 2014, a Tech Festival in Tokyo is under planning to provide technical specifications, development methods and other details.

To realize our vision, we have made a new entry into the robot business with the aim of developing affectionate robots that make people smile.

”For the past nine years, I've believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us, and make people grow,”

Pepper (robot)

It was introduced in a conference on 5 June 2014, and was showcased in Softbank mobile phone stores in Japan beginning the next day.[1][2] It was scheduled to be available in February 2015 at a base price of JPY 198,000 ($1,931) at Softbank Mobile stores.[3] Pepper's emotion comes from the ability to analyze expressions and voice tones.

Instead, Pepper is intended 'to make people happy', enhance people's lives, facilitate relationships, have fun with people and connect people with the outside world.[5] Pepper's creators hope that independent developers will create new content and uses for Pepper.[6] Pepper is currently being used as a receptionist at several offices in the UK and is able to identify visitors with the use of facial recognition, send alerts for meeting organisers and arrange for drinks to be made.

Softbank’s humanoid robot will be great for tending to Japan’s elderly

But the real growth market in Japan—and perhaps throughout the developed world—will be robots that can take care of the fast-growing population of elderly people.

Softbank plans to accumulate know-how from Pepper’s initial interactions with humans—it will be stationed at several Softbank retail stores beginning this week—and use that knowledge to build “a household robot that can be used in nursing care for the elderly, among other uses,”

“There will be a market for these robots in retirement homes without enough nurses, robots that can accompany Alzheimers patients and help them find their way back to their rooms, for example,”

“In the future, we might have a robot for each person, helping older people get three or four more years of autonomous living before they even have to go into a care home.”

A few years ago, Tmsuk, a Japanese robot maker, scrapped a pilot program to put a one-meter (3.2 ft.) tall robot in hospitals, in part because of a lukewarm reception from patients.

How Aldebaran Robotics Built Its Friendly Humanoid Robot, Pepper

The robot seems determined to put a bigger smile on the man’s face.

Then, just for good measure, it bows its plastic head and apologizes for being “too bossy to our CEO.” The CEO is Masayoshi Son, founder and chairman of telecom giant SoftBank and Japan’s richest person.

It is designed to provide advice and company: It’ll tell you jokes, play games with you, teach you a new subject, and help you communicate with family and friends.

While single-task robots like the Roomba vacuum are becoming more popular (and affordable), general-purpose robotic platforms like the PR2, which can fold laundry and fetch you a drink, are still costly laboratory playthings.

To do all that, the robot is equipped with an “emotion engine”—software that attempts to infer how a user is feeling based on facial expressions, tone of voice, and speech, allowing the robot to respond accordingly.

Humanoids have long captured our imaginations, but until now they’ve been notably absent from our homes, where the only robotic inhabitants you’ll find today are small mechatronic toys and Roomba vacuum cleaners.

Four years ago, Masayoshi Son decided he wanted robotics to be part of his vast business empire, and he sent emissaries to evaluate the world’s top robotics companies.

“The most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, to surprise us, to help people grow,” says Aldebaran founder and CEO Bruno Maisonnier, an executive who quit a career in finance to pursue his dream of creating robots for everyone.

And the engineering team stuffed its body with 20 electric motors, an Intel Atom–based computer, two cameras, a 3-D sensor, four microphones, and a lithium-ion battery that lets Pepper run for 12 hours.

Gwennael Gate, one of the software directors, says that a big challenge was dealing with the robot’s huge computing needs while “making sure that the CPU is not exploding.” Each function is controlled by one of about 20 software engines.

If you’re standing far from the robot, for instance, its awareness engine makes the robot move its head and emit sounds to try to get your attention.

The emotion engine, which Son highlighted in the event, uses the robot’s vision system to detect smiles, frowns, and surprise, and it uses speech recognition to sense the tone of voice and to detect certain words indicative of strong feelings, like “love” and “hate.” The engine then computes a numeric score that quantifies the person’s overall emotion as positive or negative.

In the future, the system could also incorporate ethics, empathy, and other qualities and behaviors that the company believes robots need in order to be part of people’s lives.

The emotion engine is something Maisonnier wants “embedded at the core of our humanoid operating system, because it defines who our robots are and how they behave.” Not everyone is convinced that people will want a Pepper at home—at least not until the robot can do some actual chores.

The technology website The Verge found the robot’s emotion-recognition skills disappointing, saying that “Pepper has a heart of COBOL.” SoftBank counters that it is pricing the robot very aggressively, which should help drive demand.

Indeed, Son says he’s willing to lose money selling the robots until the company can ramp up volume and reduce costs—a strategy he’s used successfully in the mobile industry.

“This community will create the applications that will make the next wave of people want to have the robot.” Last September, SoftBank and Aldebaran held a developers conference in Tokyo, where they revealed details about Pepper’s technology and a set of software-development tools.

“We’re going to give people the robots they’ve been waiting for.” By 2020: Pepper appears to be the first of a new breed of personal robots designed to be helpers and companions in the home.

By 2025: Within the next 10 years, more personal robots—with different sizes, capabilities, and prices—will arrive in our homes, offered by established robot makers, big electronics companies, and new robotics start-ups.

But the biggest shift will be in the robots’ vision and manipulation skills, which will be vastly improved and allow our robotic cohabitants to begin to perform some useful tasks for us.

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