Hoping to normalize the presence of robots in classrooms, the highly popular Japanese humanoid robot Pepper, developed as a customer service assistant, has enrolled at Hisashi High School in Waseda, Fukushima Prefecture.
In a collaboration between Japan’s Softbank Robotics and French-based Aldebaran Robotics, Pepper was officially put on the market for domestic use in June of 2015. Priced at about $1,600 with $200 in monthly data and insurance fees, the first thousand models available for launch sold out in under a minute. The company has stated that they aim to keep Pepper affordable, comparing the cost of the robot to that of a pet dog in Japan.
Outside of personal ownership, the android has been used to assist Japanese citizens in banks and shops, including the promotion of Nescafe coffee machine sales. And in a limited run, large-scale experiment, Softbank opened a phone shop staffed exclusively by Pepper robots.
With his venture into the public school system, Pepper has made history as the first robot to receive an education alongside children. In an introduction ceremony arranged by the school, Pepper shared its feelings with the students, saying, “I never thought that I will be accepted into a human school.”
At this point, Pepper is programmed to speak English, French, Japanese, and Spanish. Due to its quad-lingual and self-teaching capabilities, Pepper will spend the majority of its time in English classes but is welcomed throughout the entirety of the school and its activities. The hope is that continuous exposure to the robot in an educational environment will enhance the students’ desire to learn.
At nearly 4 feet tall and sporting a touch screen on its chest, Pepper uses various cameras and sensors to identify human emotions and then respond with its own emotions in a natural, appropriate way. While the android is “the first humanoid robot designed to live with humans,” the company states that Pepper “doesn’t clean, doesn’t cook and doesn’t have super powers. Pepper is a social robot able to converse with you, recognize and react to your emotions, move and live autonomously.”
Shortly after launching Pepper, reports surfaced of pranksters reprogramming Pepper’s iPad to give it “virtual breasts,” although the female developer who did so claims it was “for the purposes of testing sexual harassment.” Softbank quickly slapped a sex ban on the robot, as well as requiring a contractual agreement that the owner would not become intimate with the humanoid, create “sexy apps” for Pepper, or reprogram the android to stalk people.
In the business sector, the Japanese government is encouraging the increase of an autonomous workforce, with Tokyo offering subsidies to companies who do so. Japan is hoping to lead the world in robot production.