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Pepper the robot makes perfect home companion

By Associated Press in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2015-07-14 08:06

 Pepper the robot makes perfect home companion

A family tries to talk to a companion robot at a store in Tokyo, on Sunday. Pepper, the 121-centimeter tall machine-on-wheels, offers ardent attention, cool dance moves, and lots of small talk. Shizuo Kambayashi / Associated Press

Japanese people like cute things and Pepper, the new companion robot from Tokyo-based technology company Softbank Corp, takes cuteness to a new level.

The attention it gives is a lot better than that given by some real-life people.

"You look a bit thin," it coos in a soft childlike voice, free of any rigid mechanical accent. "You should watch what you eat."

The 121-centimeter-tall white machine-on-wheels is disarmingly charming and will be available to customers later this month. It costs $1,600, plus maintenance and insurance costs that ownership entails, which all adds up to some $10,000 for an estimated three-year life span.

Only available in Japan so far, overseas sales are undecided. The programming it has now caters to Japanese tastes. A US version will obviously have to be quite different.

Pepper has cameras, lasers and infrared technology in its hairless head, enabling it to detect human faces. Whatever direction a person moves, its cocked head will mirror that movement, intently looking into a person's face with its big eyes, like a puppy. Except this pet can talk.

Remaining fairly close to Pepper, the machine will prattle on and on, switching from one small talk topic to another, gesticulating at times with its five-fingered soft hands for effect.

"Do you want to play a quiz game? What animal goes like this: bow wow," it might say. It will say "cat" is the wrong answer.

And then it will ask, "What did you have for dinner?" Answer "tempura" and it has enough voice recognition to reply: "Oh, Japanese." Answer "steak" and it replies: "Oh, Western."

The conversations do sometimes repeat themselves, but so does human dialogue.

Each Pepper is handmade by Foxconn in China. Supplies are limited to 1,000 a month. The first batch for July sold out in a minute.


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