|Softbank will deploy Pepper, Nao, and Whiz / Photo Credit: Pheniti Prasomphethiran (via Shutterstock)|
Tech giant SoftBank is opening a new cafe staffed by its Pepper robots in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, wrote Trevor Mogg of Digital Trends, a technology news, lifestyle, and information website. SoftBank’s robotic unit launched Pepper, a 125-cm-tall talking robot in 2015. Since then, the robot has been deployed in different locations such as in hospitals, stores, museums, and airports. At the new Pepper Parlor cafe in Tokyo, the units greet customers, take their orders, and even chat with them at their table.
Other than Pepper, SoftBank is also deploying its two other robots, Nao and Whiz. The former is about half the size of Pepper. Nao will perform table dances while Whiz will utilize its AI-powered cleaning technology to keep the cafe immaculate. It seems odd that the company is venturing into the cafe industry. However, SoftBank said that it wants to use the cafe to help it learn how customers interact with robots to help improve the design of its “high-tech offerings.” “We will be able to build know-how by managing the store on our own. That way we will be able to propose functions that companies want in robots,” SoftBank executive Kazutaka Hasumi told the Asian Review, as quoted by Isao Horikoshi.
Japan is currently facing a shortage of workers in some industries as its population is shrinking and aging rapidly. The government is also reluctant in embracing mass immigration to help address this issue. Hence, Japan is putting its resources into developing robots and other technology that perform jobs in various industries. As of this writing, Pepper’s skills are limited. When it was placed in hospitals and airports, Pepper wasn’t “performing surgical procedures or conducting security checks.” Rather, the unit was used as a form of entertainment or to provide information for people who interact with it.
Despite its shortcomings, Pepper is becoming smarter as it can recognize faces and emotions, respond through voice, or display messages on its torso-based tablet. Hopefully, Pepper will perform better at the new cafe than it did at a grocery store in Scotland in 2018. After working at the grocer for one week, the owners had to let the robot go after deciding that “it was too limited in its capabilities.” Still, SoftBank’s robot will continue to improve. Someday, we could see Pepper being offered new jobs.