LAST YEAR, THE Japanese company SoftBank opened a cell phone store in Tokyo and staffed it entirely with sales associates named Pepper. This wasn’t as hard as it sounds, since all the Peppers were robots.
Humanoid robots, to be more precise, which SoftBank describes as “kindly, endearing, and surprising.” Each Pepper is equipped with three multidirectional wheels, an anticollision system, multiple sensors, a pair of arms, and a chest-mounted tablet that allows customers to enter information. Pepper can “express his own emotions” and use a 3-D camera and two HD cameras “to identify movements and recognize the emotions on the faces of his interlocutors.”
The talking bot can supposedly identify joy, sadness, anger, and surprise and determine whether a person is in a good or bad mood—abilities that Pepper’s engineers figured would make “him” an ideal personal assistant or salesperson.
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