Pepper Robots to Fully Staff Tokyo Cellphone Store

Pepper humanoid robots will help customers make purchases, select data plans and sign contracts at a cellphone store in Tokyo.

Softbank plans to open a cellphone store in Tokyo in which the front of the store will be staffed entirely by the company’s Pepper humanoid robots. The Pepper robots will help customers make purchases, select data plans and sign contracts.

There will be a few humans at the store who will help in the customer identity verification process, but the bulk of the work will be carried out by five or six emotion-detecting robots. Softbank claims this will be the first store to use only humanoid robots to offer this level of service.

Pepper doesn’t have functioning hands, however, and won’t be able to carry new phones to the customers. So Softbank is considering shipping them to the clients’ addresses.

The “Pepper Phone Store” will be located at the Omotesando shopping district and will open for a week-long trial on March 28. “I don’t know how this will turn out, but it should be a quite interesting experiment,” Softbank CEO Ken Miyauchi told the Japan Times during the Pepper World 2016 conference in Japan

SoftBank also announced it is opening its app store for “Pepper for Biz” on Feb. 22. Dubbed “RobotApp Market for Biz,” the store will allow Pepper for Biz customers to “choose and install robot apps that suit their companies’ usage needs.”

Pepper stands just under 4 feet tall and has three omni-directional wheels. Pepper also has a 3D camera to detect passengers movements along with a 10 inch touch screen. If guests aren’t delighted, Pepper will probably be able to tell. Pepper became available to Japanese consumers in June 2015. Since then, 1,000 units of the robot have gone on sale every month, each time selling out in a matter of seconds.

At CES 2016, Softbank announced a partnership with IBM on a Watson-powered version of Pepper. Watson’s computing power will enable Pepper to continuously gain knowledge and “understand the world the way humans do - through senses, learning and experience.” SoftBank hasn’t set a date when the Watson-powered Pepper will go on sale, however, IBM said the first Watson-powered Peppers will be tested in hospitality and consumer retail stores.

This Tokyo retail store, however, isn’t only commercial endeavor for Pepper. Miyauchi said 37 banks and financial institutions use Pepper to interact with customers, and Nissan Motor Corp. has the robot in about 100 of its outlets. And in the spring of 2016, Pepper will join the staff of two Carnival Corporation cruise lines, Costa Cruises and AIDA, to greet passengers as they board the ships and offer tips about dining, events, and excursions in English, German and Italian.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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