Visitors to SoftBank stores in Tokyo and many other areas around Japan would have likely encountered the small white robot Pepper.
The humanoid robot, co-developed by Aldebaran Robotics with the telecommunications giant, can also be spotted at various other stores and hotels in Japan, eager to communicate with people.
This quirky gimmick alone is amusing enough for most kids and tourists, though Pepper has so far failed to function in a fully practical way in the retail environment. (Our interactions, at any rate, have rarely gone smoothly.) It seems that the robots are not quite taking off just yet.
But now comes news that SoftBank has set up pilot “robot cafes” in three stores in Tokyo. The spaces are available at the Ginza, Roppongi and Omotesando stores from July 19th until August 2nd. Pepper will serve free cups of coffee to customers in anticipation of a fully fledged robot cafe some day (and one that will certainly be different to the raunchier and unashamedly kitsch Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku).
Since Pepper can remember faces and drink preferences, it makes an attentive and hard-working server. While customers are waiting to purchase their new smartphone contract, Pepper can approach and ask them if they would like a cup of coffee.
Customers can then select the amount and type of coffee they would like using the touch screen embedded into Pepper’s body. Pepper will brew your cup of joe on a nearby coffee machine.
If you are brave enough, you can register yourself on the screen as a “friend” so Pepper will memorize your face and coffee choice.
The robot recognizes different human faces thanks to a system developed by Microsoft that is capable of detecting 27 spots on a human face.