Many researchers and developers have been working on robotic applications to support the physical and educational needs of persons with disabilities. S0me examples are medical devices that can be used during surgery procedures, robot-assisted rehab to enhance human motor controls and strength, and personal robots that can perform human interactions with real-time feedback.
One of the personal robots that can perform human interactions with real-time feedback is Pepper from a French firm, Aldebaran Robotics (https://www.aldebaran.com/en), owned by SoftBank corp., the world’s largest mobile phone company in Japan. Pepper is under 4 feet tall and weighs about 61 pounds. He can be programmed in 16 languages and is designed to live with humans at home. He doesn’t clean or cook (so what good is he?), but he is a social robot that can interact with voice, touch and emotions. The Aldebaran website says, “Pepper can translate what state you are in using his knowledge of universal emotions (joy, surprise, anger, doubt and sadness) and his ability to analyze your facial expression, body language and the words you use.” So you can have a cheerful or lonely Pepper at home based on your preference. However, it seems that Pepper will need more improvements and enhancements on apps so that he can understand each real-time question correctly.
Meet Pepper, the Friendly Humanoid Robot
The first consumer launch in Japan made only 1000 units available to the public this June 2015. All units were sold within a minute. Unfortunately, Pepper isn’t reasonable for everyone. The base price is 198,000 yen ($1,600), but you also need to sign a 3-year contract ($200 month) and additional insurance pack, which adds up to a total of $9,000. SoftBank also plans to launch “Pepper for Biz” in the fall and make the robot available for business. It looks like we may see this robot, Pepper, in the US within 12 months.
Many researchers and developers continue to focus their research to overcome the real-world obstacles to the use of robots as an effective assistive technology. It is exciting to know that robotic applications have been effectively applied not only to motor rehabilitation but also to support psychological and emotional interactions. We may not be too far away from seeing robots like Pepper greeting customers in stores, teaching and interacting with students at schools, and being companions in assistive living facilities.