Tech

Cute but useless, the Pepper robot will be unplugged by SoftBank

After 7 years of (moderately) good and loyal service, the humanoid robot Pepper will be shelved by SoftBank. The machine which has never really proved its usefulness will see its development frozen after a restructuring of the company.

Pepper: 2014 – 2021. It’s not every day that we can announce the death of a robot, but on this Tuesday, June 29, 2021, Softbank announced to end the production of its humanoid robot Pepper. This killing announced by Reuters marks the end of the existence of one of the strangest robotic experiments in recent years.

Released in 2014, the robot from the Japanese conglomerate had big ambitions. He was initially expected to act as a receptionist in Softbank stores in Japan to help people find what they were looking for. Equipped with a tactile tablet as a torso guide and rollers as a foot, Pepper had an assumed humanoid form, designed to familiarize the public with the use of robots in everyday life.

An “emotional” robot

On its release, Bruno Maisonnier, the CEO of the French company Aldebaran (the company that created Pepper, which would later be renamed SoftBank Robotics) even explained that the robot was endowed with an “emotional engine” capable of adapting the tone and the language of the machine according to the interlocutor he has in front of him. So, if Pepper detected through his facial recognition algorithms that a customer was angry or impatient, he could try to reduce the pressure diplomatically. Pepper was obviously connected to the cloud and promised to continuously improve thanks to the feedback of the entire fleet of robots.

The Pepper robot during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics // Source: Dick Thomas Johnson – Wikimedia Commons

The robot will have traveled around the world even inviting itself to the Town Hall of the 15th arrondissement of Paris to guide those who needed help in their administrative procedures. Pepper will also have tried to seduce the general public by selling itself as a pet robot capable of entertaining children. But 7 years after its birth, Pepper has just been shelved after having produced 27,000 copies.

A cute but unhelpful robot

According to Reuters, production was actually halted last year following changes in SoftBank’s strategy. The Japanese company will restructure its teams in the face of Pepper’s semi-failure. Seduced at first glance by this new kind of reception agent, many businesses finally put the robot away, which proved to be much less useful than expected, and did not really know how to help the target clientele. Designed as a real daily assistant, Pepper has never fulfilled its promises and ultimately brings little added value to the tablet it integrates (although it costs € 20,000).

Officially, SoftBank will continue to develop Pepper and the robots will not die out overnight. But the teams in charge of the robot will be drastically reduced and 330 jobs are threatened within the French subsidiary. It is therefore a safe bet that development will be frozen and that no new functionality will arrive in the coming years. SoftBank will therefore let Pepper die quietly in his beautiful death. Little angel gone too late.

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