SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper Has Dreams Beyond Store Greeter

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Pepper robot retail greeter

SoftBank Robotics America has unveiled a new suite of software tools to customize its Pepper humanoid robot for U.S. businesses, with the promise that it’s easy enough for even non-technical users to upload assets and brand messages via a mobile app.

The goal of the new Promoter platform is to make it easier for marketers to program the robot’s interactions with customers, support marketing needs such as branding and loyalty programs, and boost the customer experience via personalized messaging and even movements.

SoftBank Robotics Pepper robot

SoftBank Robotics (formerly Aldebaran Robotics) is leading the charge worldwide with its robotics technology and three robot models—Pepper, NAO and Romeo—already in use in more than 70 countries, delivering innovative applications (beyond a basic greeter function) in research, education, retail, healthcare, tourism, hospitality and entertainment.

“To ensure accessibility and ease of use, we are developing a new suite of out-of-the-box solutions so anyone can utilize Pepper’s capabilities,” said Steve Carlin, Chief Strategy Officer at SoftBank Robotics America, in a press release.

“There are still many ways to customize Pepper and create one-of-a-kind customer experiences,” he added. “Promoter will give businesses a simple solution to easily integrate Pepper into their business and start engaging with their customers in a new way.”

Marketers can upload existing campaign assets and brand messages into the Promoter Web App, and a complete campaign is instantly communicated via Pepper. The app is pre-installed with predefined animations for Pepper for a deeper dive into customer engagement and rewards for time spent with a brand.

Promoter’s tools measure and analyze campaign conversion and other metrics, and bridge the online/offline gap through text messages to drive traffic back to websites or mobile apps once Pepper has a customer’s smartphone number. Pepper can qualify a shopper and make recommendations based on gender, age and customers’ mood or emotional response, delivering a marketing message in a repeatable and engaging way.

U.S. businesses can reserve Pepper as of July 2017 with packages starting at $25,000. Retail greeter and sales associate is the first obvious application for Pepper, as SoftBank promoted at the National Retail Federation’s recent Big Show.

“In 2017, robotics is poised to truly transform the retail landscape, for shoppers and retailers alike,” stated Carlin in an NRF-timed press release. “Pepper has the functionality and form factor to serve customers with the information and brand interaction they need to make smart and informed decisions, while allowing the retailer to monitor engagement and collect new customer insights that can be critical for growing a business in a crowded market place.”

SoftBank Pepper robot

One early U.S. adopter: Mississippi-based telecommunications and technology services company C Spire. The company operates America’s largest privately-held mobile services unit and the 6th largest in the U.S., serving 1 million plus customers with voice, data and Internet access and a suite of Voice IP and cloud services.

“As a company that gets its inspiration from our customers, we’re excited to partner with SBRA to usher in a new era of technology innovation through robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning,” C Spire President Stephen Bye stated. “This is the next great technology frontier.”

Pepper is best-known as the first humanoid robot capable of recognizing the basic human emotions and adapting behavior to the mood of the user. More than 10,000 Pepper robots have been sold in Japan for use in businesses and home, the first robot to be adapted for personal use at home.

Pepper is being used by Nissan (which hired 100 Peppers for its Japanese car dealers), Sephora and Carrefour and last year Pizza Hut Asia and MasterCard partnered on the first commerce application for the robot with MasterCard Pepper Cafe.

MasterCard holders can sync their account with Pepper through the MasterPass mobile wallet app or by scanning a QR code on the tablet attached to Pepper’s chest. Pepper suggests menu choices and special offers such as, “Don’t forget about the free 2-liter with any two medium pizzas.”

Pepper MasterCard SoftBank cafe Singapore

In Canada, for example, starting this month Pepper will be on-hand at ATB Financial branches in Alberta, engaging with customers via a touchscreen tablet and able to describe and recommend ATB products and services, offer a financial literacy quiz, and offer an opportunity to take a selfie with a robot or learn some dance moves.

SoftBank Pepper robot

“Bringing on Pepper to assist our customers will help us learn what is possible,” ATB President and CEO Dave Mowat stated.  “Pepper is cutting-edge technology. We’re excited for her to say hello to our customers and tell them about ATB — or just dance together for a bit.”

“What she embodies is the ability to interact in ways that are really efficient,” Mowat commented to a reporter. “Ultimately, she could remember your face. You walk in two years later and she still says ‘hi, how are you?’”

SoftBank Pepper robot

Pepper also will help clients make routine tasks easier, he added. “You want the balance of your account, or you want to pay out a figure in your account—artificial intelligence in a robot can help do that so our human beings can spend more time on the higher value stuff for their customers.”

As TechCrunch notes, “While SoftBank has promised more to come from its team, the first solution out of the gate makes it pretty clear the key application the company expects its robot to fulfill: attracting customers with its novelty and pulling them into a place of business or getting information from them.”

SoftBank NAO robotPepper’s sibling and predecessor, called NAO, is an interactive and personalizable robot companion, 58 cm in height, and the first humanoid robot of SoftBank Robotics. Evolving since birth in 2006, this fifth iteration has sold more than 10,000 NAOs worldwide. Users can create a version with specific apps drawn from personal needs and imagination.

NAO is widely used in education, helping students in STEM studies and programming, teaching by creating a dance or catching objects while analyzing his environment, learning to count, tell a story or even write.

NAO is a rising star in healthcare: in retirement homes and specialized schools for children diagnosed with autism; retail sales assistant to salesman at Darty; banking in a test in Japanese bank Mitsubishi; and tourism, reception and concierge services at a hotel in Japan, where guests are welcomed in a range of languages.

SoftBank Romeo robot

SoftBank’s third robot is lesser-known—Romeo, a technological platform for personal assistance research. Standing 140 cm tall, this humanoid robot is designed to explore and research assisting elderly and people with diminishing autonomy.

A recent report projected that for every robot put in place per thousand workers, up to six workers will lose their jobs. As many as 57% of jobs could be automated by 2037 and in America, projections are that robots will quadruple by 2025 to 5.25 more robots per thousand workers. Whether today’s robot greeters are tomorrow’s full-time employees remains to be seen.

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