SoftBank Will Sell Humanoid Robot Pals Starting Next February

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pepper-fullWe don’t have robot butlers just yet, but as of next year, it will be possible to have your very own human-like robot companion. Japanese telecom giant SoftBank revealed to Reuters that it will begin selling personal robot buddies by February. These bots are able to learn and express emotions, and will sell for just under $2,000, with the company believing they’ll be able to serve as babysitters, medical workers or just general companions, all key roles in a market (Japan) where there’s an aging population.

The first public prototype of this new emotional robot, called Pepper, will be rolling into SoftBank mobile retail locations this week, serving customers in-store. The robot uses cloud computing to develop its own emotional capabilities over time – think ‘Her’ but with a much more gradual learning curve. The robots don’t share owner personal information via the cloud, however, the company says. It can operate for 12 hours continuously on a single charge (full day, so it can sleep when you do) and is equipped with Wi-Fi and a 10.1-inch touch display.

SoftBank’s automatons are built by a French robotics company called Aldebaran. The Japanese carrier owns a stake in the co. which it acquired in 2012, and the robots it designs will be mass-produced by Hon Hai Precision, also known as Foxconn, the same company that makes iPhones and other gadgets for Apple.

If you want to see a (fictionalized) depiction of what kind of roles these robots might serve, check out the 2012 film Robot & Frank, in which Frank Langella’s lead character is an aging jewel thief plagued by dementia, but helped by a robot that provides him with companionship and assistance with general daily tasks, like food preparation. At under $2,000, too, SoftBank’s robot could accessible to a fairly large group, and cost a lot less than a live-in caretaker. We’ll have to see just how versatile the robot is before declaring it a home health care alternative, but this is definitely an interesting next step in the world of home robotics.