Slowly but surely, Pepper the humanoid robot is gearing up for its US launch. Starting today, Pepper will be assisting customers this holiday season at two shopping centers in California: the Westfield San Francisco Centre and the Westfield Valley Fair in Silicon Valley.
Softbank Robotics America (SBRA) says the trial will last for three months. Each shopping center will have four Pepper robots that will greet and engage with customers. In the second phase of the program, which starts in December, Pepper will use Westfield’s navigation API to help visitors navigate their shopping center to find stores and restaurants
“The partnership between SoftBank Robotics and Westfield is leading the way in transforming the retail experience,” said Steve Carlin, general manager and vice president of SoftBank Robotics America. “We’re thrilled that Westfield patrons in the Bay Area will have the opportunity to meet Pepper, and have their first interaction with a robot at retail this holiday season.”
Carlin is one of the featured speakers at the CES Robotics Conference, which is produced by Robotics Trends. Carlin, along with Hanson Robotics founder and CEO David Hanson, will explore how AI, deep learning, and other technologies are helping robots be more useful in everyday life. This pilot program and a future outlook for Pepper will be discussed during this session.
Softbank says consumers who come across Pepper at the two shopping centers will have the option to strike a pose for an impromptu ‘selfie,’ learn to say ‘hello’ in six languages or play an interactive game with Pepper.
In August 2016, Pepper did a week-long stint at b8ta, a software-powered retailer in Palo Alto, Calif., where it greeted customers that come into the store. This was the first job Pepper has landed in the US. Pepper also worked at The Ave, an on-campus store at the University of Southern California. But Pepper is best known for selling iPhones at Softbank mobile stores in Tokyo. Pepper has also worked at Pizza Hut, on cruise ships, at a Tokyo half-way house mentoring ex-cons, and at schools in Singapore.
A launch date for Pepper’s official arrival in the US was once tentatively set for late 2016, but that obviously has been pushed back to 2017. Carlin recently told USA Today that the sales focus for Pepper will only target businesses. SBRA’s North American headquarters just opened about six months ago, so surely the company will use this trial and more to gain feedback from the public before rolling out the humanoid robot.
So if you’re out shopping in Northern California on Black Friday and are frustrated by long lines or miss out on a good deal, maybe Pepper will help you crack a smile. Just don’t take your anger out on Pepper like a 60-year-old man did at a Softbank store in Japan. That won’t end well for anyone.