SoftBank, a Japanese Corporation, announced on Thursday that as of February next year it will start selling human-like robots for personal use, addressing labour shortages in one of the world's fastest ageing societies.
The company who are best known for their mobile phone and internet technology foresees the robots acting as baby-sitters, nurses, emergency medical workers or even party companions. These robots will cost 198,000 yen ($1,900) and are designed to be able to learn and express emotions, SoftBank CEO, Masayoshi Son told a news conference.
A prototype will be deployed this week, serving customers at SoftBank mobile phone stores in Japan, he added. The sleek, waist-high robot, named Pepper, accompanied Son to the briefing, speaking to reporters in a high-pitched, boyish voice. Son said: "People describe others as being robots because they have no emotions, no heart. For the first time in human history, we're giving a robot a heart, emotions."
Japan's population is one of the most rapidly ageing in the world and the government hopes that companies can offset a decline in available labour force by using robotics. In fact several Japanese technology manufacturers are entering this expanding robotics market. Panasonic Corp and robotics research subsidiary ActiveLink Co Ltd this week showcased robotic suits and vests to assist in arduous manual tasks such as carrying heavy loads or picking fruit from trees. Personal or household robots, such as the Asimo robot that Honda Motor Co has been developing for more than a decade, are seen as potential elderly care providers.
French robotics company Aldebaran, whom SoftBank took a stake in in 2012, developed the robot which will be manufactured by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd. The robot will use cloud computing to share data that can help develop their own emotional capabilities, but Son declared that they would not share the owner's personal information.