Family Member Robot Unveiled at SoftBank

'Family Member' Robot Unveiled at SoftBank

URAYASU -- Japan's SoftBank on Thursday unveiled what it billed as an "emotional" humanoid robot that will entertain customers at the mobile carrier's phone outlets -- and maybe become a member of their family.

Company president Masayoshi Son joked around with the talking, dancing and singing humanoid named Pepper at an event just outside Tokyo.

The bug-eyed 3.9-feet tall robot may eventually take on a customer-service agent role at Softbank's stores, Son said, adding that its "human emotions" made it a perfect fit for families in a rapidly ageing society where labor shortages loom.

"Pepper is not yet perfect, but he can already understand about 70% to 80% of spontaneous conversations," Son said.

The robot can learn and "understand" human facial expressions and emotions, making it a perfect party companion, babysitter or even caretaker for seniors, said the flamboyant chief executive, who led SoftBank's $22 billion purchase of U.S.-based Sprint last year.

"Pepper could become a very good friend and a powerful tutor for a child, for example. He could learn about a family over several years... and actually become a member of the family."

Robots are common in technology-obsessed Japan. A humanoid developed by automaker Honda chatted and kicked around a soccer ball with visiting President Barack Obama earlier this year.

SoftBank's Pepper, which would be sold from February for about $2,000, was developed by French robot maker Aldebaran Robotics and would be manufactured by Taiwan's Foxconn, a major supplier to Apple.

It will start greeting customers at two Tokyo outlets from Friday, Son said.

SoftBank is well known in Japan for its quirky TV commercials in which a snow-white dog heads a multicultural family.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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