Pepper, the humanoid robot from Softbank Robotics, this week began a 30-day pilot program at Oakland International Airport. One 4-foot-tall Pepper robot will greet and engage with guests at HMSHost’s Pyramid Ale Taproom in Terminal 2, offering assistance, menu recommendations and directions to travelers.
This isn’t the first airport gig for Pepper; it has already been used at airports in Belgium and Japan. SoftBank Robotics America (SBRA), the North American arm of SoftBank Robotics Holdings, says it built applications specifically for this partnership with HMSHost. Through an interactive map on its screen, Pepper can also help travelers find their gate, restrooms, exits and more.
San Jose International Airport recently deployed robots from Future Robot also to help engage, entertain and assist travelers.
As SBRA points out in an email, Pepper will “welcome travelers to try a restaurant when they might otherwise have just gone directly to their gate.” And more businesses are starting to realize the potential here and explore how they can use Pepper to attract and engage customers.
In late 2016, Pepper started a three-month trial at two shopping centers in California, where each shopping center has four Pepper robots to greet and engage with customers. Pepper landed its first US job in August 2016 at b8ta, a software-powered retailer in Palo Alto, Calif., where for a week it greeted customers that come into the store. Pepper also worked at The Ave, an on-campus store at the University of Southern California.
At CES 2017, SBRA demoed some applications for Pepper that will turn it into a truly engaging robot that captures people’s attention. Pepper and I played “Cards Against Humanity,” a popular party game, and it was connected to a robotic bartender and made me a drink based on my personal preferences. We’ve also seen Pepper use trial-and-error learning to learn how to play darts and “Ball in a Cup.” Again, if features like these are ever rolled out commercially, Pepper will be the ultimate engagement tool regardless of the environment.
We’ve reached out to SBRA regarding how long the pilot is at Oakland International Airport and how many Pepper robots are being used. We’ll update this story when we receive more information.