January 07, 2016      

IBM and SoftBank Robotics are planning to offer a Watson-powered version of the Pepper humanoid robot.

Pepper will be able to tap into data and knowledge across the Internet of Things to learn quicker and better interpret data from social media, video, images, and text. Watson’s cognitive computing technology will allow Pepper to continuously gain knowledge and “understand the world the way humans do – through senses, learning and experience.”

A SoftBank spokesman says the company hasn’t set a date when the Watson-powered Pepper will go on sale, however, IBM says the first Watson-powered Peppers will be tested in hospitality and consumer retail stores. IBM says these Peppers will replace some of the mundane kiosks and not sales assistants.

The Watson-powered Pepper robot will also be equipped with Watson software development kit (SDK) that allows developers and clients to tailor the interaction experience. IBM will give clients access to Watson APIs and various pre-packaged applications designed to address a variety of personal and professional needs.

“Today, the power of cognitive computing can be woven into any form factor. Our collaboration with [Softbank] on Pepper will allow a much broader audience to experience and tap into Watson,” said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president, IBM Watson. “In terms of hands-on interaction, when cognitive capabilities are embedded in robotics, you see people engage and benefit from this technology in new and exciting ways.”

Pepper became available to Japanese consumers in June 2015. Since then, 1,000 units of the robot have gone on sale every month, each time selling out in a matter of seconds.

The humanoid robot, which can analyze gestures and voice tones through its cloud-based artificial-intelligence system, is also rented in some cases to businesses that use Pepper as an automated receptionist.

“This is no longer in the world of science fiction,” Ken Miyauchi, COO of SoftBank, said at CES.