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Pepper, a humanoid robot, will make first appearance in U.S. businesses this year

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 25, 2016
Robot's creator, Paris-based Aldebaran, said it is in talks with U.S. companies it wouldn’t name

Business use case

Seret said that businesses would be able to use Pepper's survey functions and other human interactions to improve an in-store shopping experience. Compared to online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores actually know little about their customers.

Pepper can retrieve information about a product in a store from the retailer's database to offer price and location on a shelf, but Pepper would also be able to conduct a Web search to fill out its responses to customers.

During a brief "interview" with Computerworld, it was obvious that the Pepper on display at MWC could respond only to a select range of requests. Pepper also seemed to have trouble now and then hearing over the noise on the show floor and seemed to be distracted when people would walk by. However, Pepper's occasional distractibility seemed a little like the way a middle-school child might act around his or her parent when being given specific spoken directions.

Yet at other times during the 15- minute interaction, Pepper was very cogent and responsive and even, well, endearing.

Seret said that Pepper's face and overall design were very deliberate. Pepper's face resembles an older child and its height is 120 centimeters — nearly 5 feet. That height was considered ideal since much taller might be threatening to some people and children, while much shorter would make it hard for people to talk to Pepper when standing.

Seret had a part in helping design Pepper and recalled the first time the robots were tested in the lab in 2013. Two Peppers were activated at the same time and almost immediately began to talk with each other, he said.

The two Peppers didn't have much of a vocabulary at the time, so the dialog was short. "But it was amazing," Seret said, smiling like a proud parent.


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