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Armed with Watson smarts, Pepper aspires to be a robot salesman

Tim Hornyak | July 31, 2015
Japanese robot Pepper is getting an intelligence upgrade via IBM's Watson, but that doesn't make interacting with the real world any less challenging.

That sort of step-by-step knowledge building is essential for recognizing objects in its environment.

"It has no broad understanding of things. It just looks for small patterns," said Cocoro SB engineer Akira Takanami.

Watson could significantly enhance Pepper's knowledge of new items. When introduced to chocolate, for example, Pepper could draw upon the platform's knowledge of the food and start talking about chocolate varieties and recipes.

"With Watson, it can answer questions more deeply," said Shu Shimizu, a senior manager for cognitive computing at IBM Japan.

Robots could be better at selling than some human counterparts, at least if one experiment is anything to judge by. Scientists from Osaka University's Intelligent Robotics Laboratory set up a lifelike female android as a clerk in a department store and had it try to sell US$100 cashmere sweaters. During the experiment the robot dealt with twice as many customers as its human counterpart.

SoftBank said it will start accepting lease orders for Pepper from enterprises in October. The robot will be able to approach customers, conduct questionnaires and act as a receptionist. The bot's monthly "wage" is ¥55,000 ($444), which is less than half that of someone working at Japan's average minimum wage.

"Pepper can work 24 hours a day, it won't complain and it will never be late," SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said.

 

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